Belfast Telegraph

Our kids are too smart to fall for this exploitation

By Jane Graham

I don't know any parent who doesn't welcome the Coalition's new commitment to combating what David Cameron calls the 'premature sexualisation' of children.

But I'm getting sick of the equally widespread practise of assuming that a decade of said exploitation has spawned a generation of debauched, deadbeat teenagers.

Cameron is absolutely right to bemoan the inappropriate clothing, toys and daytime TV which now assails our kids on a daily basis.

We all know what he's talking about - padded bars for pre-pubescents, pole-dancing kits nestled among the stocking fillers, soft porn shows advertising one channel up from kids' TV networks on cable TV.

It's a nasty, pernicious trend which no sensible person approves of and there's no question it makes life tougher for mums and dads still hoping they can present their young children with a picture of the wider world which uses a softer, rosier palate than the one thrown at them by the demons of the commercial market.

As for the 'if you don't like it don't buy it' mantra - totally missing the point. I don't buy it. No one I know does.

That doesn't stop my daughter being hit with rows of taunting, sparkly, hooker-style garments whenever we go to the shops.

You can explain why she won't be wearing kitten heels any time soon and hope she gets it but the reality is that the urge to appear sophisticated, grown up or cool is strong at age seven, perhaps stronger than the impact of a lecture on morality by your mum.

Similarly, regarding the 'if you don't approve of the ads, turn off the TV' argument - banning them from watching their favourite shows, all of which are perfectly acceptable content-wise, feels needlessly cruel and I damn well shouldn't have to do it.

Yes, it's a battle, but let's not fall into the trap of assuming that it will lead - or has already led - to a generation of depraved, sexually available young girls riddled with STDs, devoid of ambition and jealous of Jordan. That's a rightwing fallacy.

It's grotesque that a mercenary, amoral commercial sector are attempting to rush primary school children into a more lucrative demographic band but for the most part our seven-year-olds are just as innocent as they ever were, as keen to believe in Santa and the tooth fairy, as enchanted by Disney's princesses and fairies, as beguiled by toy dinosaurs and DC superheroes as their grandparents were.

And as they get older, while they may be more likely to make dangerous mistakes than their predecessors - not because they're worse people but simply because they have easier access to harmful facilitating materials like drugs and alcohol - they are just as likely to emerge with their heads screwed on, ready to pursue an honest, hard-working lifestyle.

They may be sexually aware earlier than we were but that still doesn't mean they'll abandon all their dignity and self-respect, nor does it mean they have become incapable of any independent thought.

Teenagers have always done stupid things but the ones I know are as bright, hopeful and likeable as any of my old pals were.

Today's lot are doing better at school than ever and, as the recent student protests have shown, still feel passionately about their education and their rights.

The vast majority will grow into the decent, capable citizens and parents of the future - and don't let any scare-mongering youth-hating old bigots tell you any differently.

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