MU criticises an increase in sexualisation of children

16 September 2010

by Rebecca Paveley

CHILDREN in the UK are exposed to too much sex and violence on tele­vision before the watershed, a new report from the Mothers’ Union (MU), Bye Buy Children, has sug­gested.

The charity used Com­Res to sur­vey 1000 parents, and found that 67 per cent of those with children under 18 thought that unsuitable content was being broad­cast before the 9 p.m. watershed.

Eighty per cent of the parents thought that sexualised and violent computer games and films were too easily available to young people, and that TV, the internet, and music had made children more sexually aware at a younger age.

The report states that the market for children’s goods is worth an estimated £99 billion in the UK; £350 million is spent each year to persuade children to become con­sumers.

Marketing and advertising agen­cies now see children as mini-consumers, with enormous “pester power” potential to access their parents’ wallets.

Controversy over products aimed at young girls, such as padded bras and pole-dancing kits, have led to the withdrawal of some items by shops.

One of the most worrying dev­elop­ments, the MU says, is “peer-to-peer marketing”, where children are recruited by marketing campaigns on the internet, which prey upon their inexperience and in­credulity. Children are encouraged to pass email addresses of friends to adver­tisers and promote products to other children.

Those parents surveyed felt that they had less control over their chi­l-dren on social-networking sites, which are frequently used for peer-to-peer marketing, than on tele­vision.

The chief executive of the MU, Reg Bailey, said: “We are most con­cerned about the inappropriate sexualisation of children and the insidious way it has happened under the noses of parents.”

The MU report, published this week, marks the start of a new campaign to empower parents to look at their shopping habits and to hold the Government to account on its pledges to address the com­mercial­isation and sexualisation of children.

The Prime Minister — who has three children — has spoken fre­quently on the issue. Mr Cameron has said that the growth in market­ing and advertising to children is “not good for families and not good for society”.

The MU has devised a “Bye Buy Test” for parents when out shopping, which asks four questions: Why do I want to buy this? How often will I use it? Can I afford it? What will happen if I don’t buy it?

Mr Bailey said: “We want to give parents more confidence, as well as encourage advertisers to be res­ponsible. We are not calling for any new legislation, but we want the cur­rent codes of practice enforced.

“We don’t want to sentimentalise childhood — we’ve all been subject to peer pressure — but it’s the sheer volume of it today that is con­cern-ing. There is more and more pres­sure on children to assess themselves, and it is diminishing the sense of belong­ing and meaning in their lives. Our society is just not doing the best it can for its children.”


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