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Tuesday 21 August 2018

Sinead Ryan: Which online pre-teen are the predators after, yours or mine?

Last night's hard-hitting Panorama programme on our sexualised children provided a shocking insight

Anyone mildly concerned about the raunchy dancing on the X Factor final or who just bought their child a laptop for Christmas has every right to be downright disturbed after watching last night's Panorama programme, which looked at the effects of early childhood sexualisation.

Not a bit sensational, told by confident young teenagers, it portrayed their world where surfing porn sites, practising sexy dance moves and dressing like someone 10 years older is one of utter normality.

As a parent you think you've misheard: what? At 13? Never.

What was most frightening is the fact that it has sort of crept up on us -- a stealth bomb of small, seemingly innocent stages which culminate in a woman-child or man-boy, before you, their parent, even realises it.

No, the risque dancing at the X Factor wasn't it. Nor was it the girly pink Playboy bunny pencil case bought for school, or even the cute T-shirt announcing an eight-year-old as a "Future Footballer's Wife".

It wasn't even the padded bra available for pre-teens to "help cover them up". It was, of course, all of those things. It's the commercial sector doing what it does best: knowing Sex Sells. Always has, always will.

It's a message as old as the act itself and who better to market it to than those who don't even realise they're being sold.

That the British government is undertaking its fifth review in three years on the sexualisation of our youngsters is depressing evidence that it doesn't matter. The damage is done and there is precious little we can do.

Yes, by all means heed the advice to keep the PC in a 'family room' for supervision, but don't be smug: any half-decent mobile phone can access the internet and your kids can do it far quicker than you.

Egged on by hormonally charged peers, they'll find stuff that would make the most worldly parent blush.

You knew that Facebook isn't just a social networking site, right? It's a competitive sport. Kids vie with each other to get as many 'friends' as possible.

They're not friends at all, of course, not even acquaintances, but contacts -- and the sexier your contact picture the better.

Boys in particular demonstrate prowess they used to reserve for the football field by having half-naked girls as 'friends' on their homepage.

As many as possible and as "hot" as they come. Doesn't matter if you know them or not: the secret is for your friends to think you do.

I managed, in just 0.33 seconds, to access 8.9 million images that would brighten up any teenage boy's screen by Googling "teenage girls". If I can, so can the 50-year-old pervert posing as one.

Should we despair though? It's easy to confuse moral panic with legitimate concern and get both out of proportion. The bright, savvy teens on Panorama had been instilled with values and good parenting which allowed them to make healthy choices, or at least know when they were being exploited.

The problem is those that haven't, or don't. Are they your children? Or mine?

The hard bit is knowing when to tackle it. You don't want to wait until you find something disturbing, or worse, when they get into trouble.

You certainly don't want to find that it's your daughter who's posing as Lolita, but the message from the experts seems to be that no age is too early.

We only have one over- riding concern as parents: keeping our children safe.

It seems that it's not the bogeyman, or even the flasher in a mac that we need to watch out for -- it's the guy we can't even see in a space that doesn't exist doing things that we don't want to know.

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