The increasing sexualisation of children

THERE is a “slow creep” of sexualised language and behaviour among children under five. It seems more and more children have stopped being children and are now obsessed with sexual talk rather than the inquisitive innocence we take for granted in children. Now more than ever, children really do “know” far more than we can fathom and that is disturbing. There are so many factors that continue to contribute to this alarming behavior. One is the fact that parents are becoming too busy to actually monitor their children. In a world that is constantly on the move and with so much to do and too little time, it seems the internet and TV have become worthy babysitters. Children are left unsupervised to visit the internet and often end up stumbling on content that is graphic and disturbing. Porn is no longer hard to find, in fact, these days it finds you. When young minds are exposed to these images that granted, they may not understand, but the images leave a lasting impression on them that they carry with them throughout their lives. They are moved to try to practise what they are seeing and that often leads to devastating effects.

An authority on eating disorders and addictions, Dr Carolyn Ross, says that even if kids do not understand the explicit material they are increasingly exposed to, they can be adversely affected by it. Children are like sponges; they soak up everything. So, once they are exposed to the wrong things, they soak it up and want to practice exactly what they see. In an article titled Sexualized behaviour in very Young Children Increasing, says Teachers,  a primary school teacher said: “As a primary teacher, I have been appalled by the rise in sexual language and behaviour in children as young as five. Unfiltered access to the internet and age-inappropriate computer games is exposing more and more young children to things they are not able to cope with or understand. Many parents haven’t got a clue what is happening.” Another teacher  also commented saying, “In the 60s and 70s, the TV was the babysitter in the corner but now it’s the internet and the internet is a dangerous place. Children as young as five are being left on their own with access to the internet. They are seeing things they should not be exposed to and it’s not being balanced by parents telling them how to keep safe.” So while the internet, because of how vast it is cannot be easily controlled, parents are also too busy to play their parts by monitoring how much access their children have to it. The result is a generation of children growing up with less inhibitions and less self control.

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Another factor is the media. There are many videos on YouTube that are run by children where they speak on relationship issues and sometimes sexual matters which people seem to find funny. The perpetuation of those kind of videos makes it seem okay, whereas it is not okay. Children should be allowed to be children. There are now many TV shows sometimes disguised as talent shows where children compete in a beauty contest where the type of dress you wear and the shoes you put on earn you points. What those shows do is to create beauty ideals in the minds of these children and so they try to dress up to match up to those ideals of perfection and when they do not, they end up thinking they are not good enough. By placing so much pressure on kids to be perfect, society robs them of their childhood. In the past, the best part of being a kid was that you did not have to worry about anything but now, children worry about everything, some even more than adults. Yet with a lower self esteem, they are ill equipped to cope with pressures that come with the struggles of living up to beauty ideals.

By having to deal with content and material, even words that they are not ready for, children are at the risk of being exposed to abuse. When they talk and act in a way that makes them appear older than they really are, they are more susceptible to attack from people who are sick and twisted. And because they might have seen it before on TV, they think it is okay. The stories on child abuse keep on increasing and everyday in the news, it seems there is yet another one or two. Twelve-year-old girls being raped by 60-year-old-men. And as if it is not appalling enough, there are sites on the internet asking for pedophiles to be legalized. Why would anyone even consider that as less than abuse? How can children who do not make any decisions for themselves be allowed to make a decision on consent? I think we all have a responsibility as a society, as individuals, as parents, to arrest this obvious negative decline into heavy sexualisation of children. This surely is a means of securing the life of our children, after all, they are the leaders of tomorrow.

  • Wale-Olaitan is of the Faculty of Education, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria.