Recently The Weekend Australian ran a story highlighting the issue of the increased sexualised behaviour of our children as a consequence of the Internet. So shocking were some of the stories, I had several girlfriends contact me in response to reading it; one in tears. For me, being in the youth space, none of this was news to me but it made me aware that many parents are not privy to such goings on.
In short, the article referred to a “generation of hypersexualised children who are requiring medical treatment for injuries and anxiety as they mimic pornography online.” Pornographic role plays are often depicting men as dominant and aggressive and women as submissive. Needless to say this is influencing young minds as to what is appropriate in an intimate engagement.
Sexting, Snapchat, selfies and social media avenues also provide a platform for the expression of sexually provocative behaviour in girls as young as 11 years old. The social impact this has now, and will continue to have, is beyond measure as our young continue to increasingly view porn as the ‘norm’.
About five years ago, I was working as a counsellor in a large, private K-12 school. The year 9 co-ordinator approached me one day, quite distressed. One of her female students was the victim of intense bullying within the school and the community at large. It was discovered the the 14 year old had professed to being in a porn video in the hope it would bring her notoriety and popularity. For a short period of time she received an enormous amount of attention from the boys in her peer set but they soon turned on her when she didn’t ‘put out!’ She quickly started denying that it was her on the video, but it was a little too late. In response to a request from the male principal it was my job to get online and determine whether it was actually her. I will never forget having to do this as it absolutely disturbed me to my core. She was right. It was not her but a look alike her age, engaged in behaviour that I never needed to see.
I worked with this girl in the weeks that followed in an attempt to understand what had prompted this extreme attention seeking behaviour. She was relatively new to the area, suffered self esteem issues and had been unable to ‘fit in’. Her parents had separated and her Mother was working full time to support them and pay her school fees. She claims she had tried to get attention in positive ways but it hadn’t worked. Naturally, it left her with only one option. Not unlike many teens, she had not thought through the consequences of her actions.
This leads us to the next terrifying issue raised in The Australian’s article. Back in our day, if daring, we would hide behind a bush and reveal our private parts fleetingly under the guise of ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours!’. Then, only that person was privy to the exposure. Now, if a young girl texts a nude selfie to a boy, it instantly becomes a digital footprint that, if shared, can never be erased. Not only are you exposing yourself to potentially thousands or millions of people, you have no way of knowing who is seeing that image. Furthermore, when posting the image, the co-ordinates of where it was posted are revealed. In the wrong hands this is absolutely terrifying. A paedophile can have your image and know where you are. It’s that simple.
So why are our young girls and boys behaving in this way? To me it seems we are going backwards as young boys are now viewing girls as vessels for their own sexual pleasure and girls are submitting. Michael Carr Greg believes that “online pornography was skewing the way teenagers viewed sex. It’s a distortion of love and intimacy”. He goes on to say that “access to pornography is a lapse in parenting.” Having raised many teens I agree that within the home this is manageable, to a degree. The moment they walk out the door, however, they have full time access to the internet on their phones. This is where it becomes almost impossible to monitor. So what is the answer?
After 20 years of working with young people, there seem to be a couple of common threads that links them together when it comes to crisis. The first being neglect, leading to an absence of a sense of belonging and the second being low self esteem. I agree with Carr Greg in the sense that solving this issue comes back to parenting. However, I believe it runs a little deeper than simply monitoring their internet access.
Our kids are being exposed to a lot more at a much younger age. As parents we need to be informed on current trends and not be naive to think this might not be happening with ‘our’ kids. Conversations need to start being had at the end of primary school and you need to continue having them constantly.
I made the common mistake that many parents do when my children became teens; I assumed that the bulk of my job was done and I could step back a little. I promptly became aware that this was not the case. My young teens needed me more than they ever had. I had to be present and on-call at all times of the day and night. Any spare time I had became an opportunity to spark conversation and maintain connection. I soon figured out that after 10pm seemed to be when my girls felt most comfortable to open up, leading to endless, but valuable late nights. Boys seem to chat most when in the car and I would often find an excuse to take them on long drives to engage in valuable conversation. If I think of the hours spent lounging around with my teens, much of the conversation revolved around current topics.
Challenging them to think outside what is presented as the norm is paramount.
Presenting them with ‘person’ focused arguments that require them to empathise with the individual rather than being blinded by the trend. Personalizing situations by asking them to think of how they would feel if it were their sister, brother, Mother or cousin.
It is paramount that our young girls and boys become aware that sex is very different for girls than it is for boys. It is an extremely intimate invasion of a young girls body. If this act is carried out in an aggressive manner, a girls body is intrinsically going to have a traumatic reaction to this. The psychological and emotional consequences of this can be long lasting and extremely damaging. This is not what we want for our young girls when discovering their sexuality and boys need to be made aware of the responsibility they have in caring for girls in this intimate engagement.
As a parent of teenagers it is of the utmost importance that we stay connected. This not only requires us to talk but it also requires us to listen; at times without reacting. This is an art and mastering the poker face can take time but the pays offs are huge. If your young person feels safe to discuss issues without fear of your reaction, the benefits are endless. You gain an insight into who they are, what they are thinking and by engaging passively you can help guide their thinking compassionately and empathetically. I also believe that young people become empowered by their ability to express and converse, leading to a more grounded sense of self and greater self esteem.
I do warn you though; it may lead you to the problem I now face. My four children are now aged between 17 and 22 and I often find myself confronted with way too much information. I guess it could be worse!
What do you think about the sexualisation of young people? Tell us your thoughts and join the conversation below…