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Sexualisation of children in the media

Sexualisation of children in the media

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is concerned about the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media.

“Sexualisation of children involves the imposition of adult models of sexual behaviour and sexuality on to children and adolescents at developmentally inappropriate stages and in opposition to the healthy development of sexuality. It encompasses sexual objectification and representation of children in adult sexual ways and in ways that imply the child’s value is dependent on conforming to a particular appearance, sexual display or behaviours,” said Professor Louise Newman, President of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.

“There is growing evidence that premature exposure to adult sexual images and values has a negative impact on the psychological development of children, particularly on self-esteem, body image and understanding of sexuality and relationships,” said Professor Newman.

“Exposure to sexualising messages contributes to girls defining their self-worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness, with negative impact on self-esteem. Excessive focus on appearance and a narrow definition of attractiveness has been found to contribute to the development of abnormal eating behaviours and lack of positive body image. Negative self-image is associated with depression, impaired sexual development in adolescence and poor self-protective behaviours in adolescent relationships,” said Professor Newman.

“Sexualised themes are frequently associated with depiction of aggression, and particularly depictions of male aggressive sexuality, and portrayal of girls and women as passive sexual objects. These may have particular impact on the development of emerging models of sexual behaviour and relationships,” said Professor Newman.

“The mental health of children and adolescents is supported if they are able to develop an age and developmentally appropriate sense of their self and their sexuality,” said Professor Newman.

“Several strategies are recommended to prevent the further proliferation of sexualised images of children. These include media regulation and psychoeducational approaches to provide children and adolescents with skills in media analysis and understanding of the impact of sexualised images and programs. These strategies aim to develop healthy sexual development and body image in the face of media representation. School based media literacy programs have been found to have a positive effect on body image concerns in girls,” said Professor Newman.

“Parenting programs should also encompass approaches to supervision of children’s media exposure and education of children about media representation,” said Professor Newman.

“Research should be focused on understanding the short and longer term impacts of sexualisation of children and the efficacy of media literacy programs and other targeted interventions,” said Professor Newman.

Professor Louise Newman will be presenting on the topic ‘Too hot to handle: The psychological impact of sexualisation in the media’ at the Australian Conference on Children and the Media in Sydney on 19 March 2010. The Australian Council on Children and the Media and the Children and Families Research Centre at Macquarie University are presenting the conference with the theme ‘Growing up fast and furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children’.


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