Sexualisation of childhood: The Bailey Review is a step in the right direction

It is a relief that Britain is finally waking up to the damage being done to children by semi-pornographic pop stars, the sale of padded bras for kids, and the alarmingly frequent instances of sexual innuendo that assault the ears and eyes through various media and marketing platforms.

If it’s not half naked pop stars thrusting their crotches in our faces on prime time family TV shows like the X Factor, it’s lingerie ads plastered across billboards and the sides of buses, or the front pages of crass “lads mags” that are not only unsuitable for children, but also deeply offensive to many people.

Such things do not merely change the way that girls and women see themselves, such as believing that their only value lies in being sexually desirable to the opposite sex. It also changes the way that boys and men see the opposite sex too, as if the purpose and worth of a woman lies primarily in providing sexual gratification and that respect, honour and sincere love are not necessary in the interactions between a man and woman.

Little wonder that so many girls in Britain suffer from low self-esteem and related conditions like self harm and eating disorders – Britain has the highest rate of anorexia and bulimia among girls in Europe.

It is also little wonder that campaigners and parents are saying ‘enough is enough’ and are looking for firm government intervention to stop the “pornification” of Britain’s children.

The Bailey Review has made several important recommendations to this effect. These include cinema-style ratings for music videos and tighter regulations on when such videos can air on TV. Billboards with sexualised images should not be displayed near schools and retailers should put a stop to the sale of inappropriate clothing and products for children.

A website giving parents an opportunity to register instances of excess is to be set up within a few weeks, and broadcasters and regulators are being urged to heed their concerns more than they have done in the past.

The impact of all of this remains to be seen as compliance with the recommendations is voluntary. The government has not ruled out the possibility of legislation but, for now, it is up to regulators such as Ofcom to ensure that children are protected from excessively sexual themes and references.

Given that Ofcom saw nothing wrong with Rihanna and Christina Aguilera’s raunchy X Factor performances – despite thousands of complaints from viewers - one can only hope that it takes note of the undeniable level of concern that has been exposed through the release of the Bailey Review.

If it takes onboard the points raised in the review, then perhaps we will have an effective regulator that does what it should have been doing all along, and protects children from the things that they are simply too young to see.

It is refreshing to hear Reg Bailey, the overseer of the review and chief executive of Mothers’ Union, saying that parents should not be ridiculed or made to feel like prudes for complaining about the sexual imagery they find unacceptable.

Wanting children to be children for as long as possible is a perfectly healthy desire for any parent and the standards by which parents raise their children should not be dictated by what some deem to be “progressive” and “modern”, or conversely, “old-fashioned”, “prudish” or “overbearing”.

Raising children with a conviction of their and their body's worth, and a sense of respect for the opposite sex is vital for healthy relationships when they become adults and the future leaders of our society.

One record mogul last week asked whether singer Adele could challenge the sexualisation of the music industry. One can only hope. Society is in desperate need of more male and female - but especially female - role models who are confident enough of their own self-worth to rely on their talents and ability to be successful, and who send out a strong message to young girls that they should value themselves because they are people with unique talents, abilities, skills and personalities. As we Christians would say, they are wonderfully and fearfully made in the image of God. What more needs to be said?!

What is so commendable about Adele is that she never sells herself short or lowers her standards to achieve success or to make herself more appealing to others. It would be wonderful if more girls could learn that same approach, because too many think that their most important task each day is to turn the heads of men.

The Bailey Review is just one small step in a much wider and concerted effort that needs to be made across many different levels of society to reverse the sexualisation of childhood and society in general that is tainting 21st century Britain.

Nonetheless, it is an extremely positive step, as this alarming and unwelcome development in our society is finally being given the attention it deserves. Sometimes late really is better than never and this is one such instance.

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