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Monday 5 December 2016

Carol Hunt: Social media sites can have a corrosive effect on young girls

Miley Cyrus in a raunchy pose
Miley Cyrus in a raunchy pose
Miley Cyrus on stage. Photo: Getty

We shouldn't really be surprised. Anyone with half a brain could have predicted that the sexual content on social media and in ads would have a damaging effect on our teens.

Creating a culture where young girls think they have to look like soft-porn stars in order to fit in is only ever going to end in tears. Or worse.

A report by researchers at University College London (UCL) shows that young girls between 11 and 13 years of age are now more likely to worry, lack confidence or feel nervous than they were five years ago, because they feel under pressure from the relentless in-your-face images of women portrayed as sex objects.

The report shows just how badly we're failing our kids when it comes to protecting them from an increasingly harsh sexual culture.

I don't like to admit it, but in recent years I have been not just dismayed, but frankly terrified, at the normalisation of "raunch culture" - the hyper-sexualisation of young girls.

I don't think I'm a prudish mother but Miley Cyrus rubbing her crotch with a foam finger and Rihanna posting selfies of herself topless in stripper heels isn't quite the sort of "feminist" role-model I want my own teenage girl to emulate.

Writer Ariel Levy initially coined the phrase "raunch culture" to describe the supposed post-feminism era of sexually emancipated women.

Women who demonstrate this sexual emancipation pole-dance, go to strip clubs, gyrate half-naked in nightclubs, pose topless for lads' magazines and wear Playboy insignia as a sort of ironic post-feminist statement.

It's totally self-defeating of course. Raunch culture is just age old chauvinism, except this time women are not just colluding but contributing to it.

Shops sell padded bras and "porn-star in training" tops to under-tens. What's worse is that there are parents out there who see nothing wrong in buying this stuff.

Then, in a culture where most under 13s have their own smart-phones, we have the problem of trying to protect our children from the horrors of sexual content on-line.

A recent study of 10,000 European children aged nine to 16 - including Irish children - found that pornography topped their list of online concerns.

It's easy to say 'don't give kids access to the internet then', but in reality that's impossible. Even if you can keep your own home internet-free, I can guarantee you that your kids are accessing stuff online at their friends' houses or on their friends' phones.

Today's teens have seen more pornography in their short years than their parents have in a lifetime.

What's worse is that young boys and girls are growing up believing that this is how women are - that porn-style sex is what girls want and what men deserve. That girls should do their best to look like porn-stars.

Advertisers are following suit. It's hardly surprising that women are becoming increasingly paranoid about their appearance. A OnePoll survey by the ITV breakfast show, Good Morning Britain, recently found that women will delete five photos before they decide on one they feel is good enough to post online.

depressing

Men fare only slightly better, deleting four before they think they look good enough to share. Even more depressing is that 67pc of kids surveyed thought that they needed to "look good" in order to post a picture of themselves online.

Most teens know that looks aren't everything, that being thin and sexy shouldn't be a priority growing up.

The UK Body Confidence report 2015 found that nine out of ten teenage girls think statements about girls and women on TV and in magazines focus too much on what they look like, instead of what they achieve. But this is what our society is selling them.

We're the adults here. We need to stand up and protect our kids. We need to demand filters on social media sites and stricter rules on advertisers.

But the bottom line is that we need to give our kids the tools - through education and self-confidence - to look at today's hyper-sexualised culture and see it for what it is. A grubby, though slick, sales pitch.

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