Jason Royce, director of Romance Academy
They see it modelled by half-naked twerking celebrities and a constant barrage of sexualised imagery that hits music channels all day, every day. It’s not just music videos; Young people are also consumers of TV shows such as Game of Thrones, which contain strong adult themes.
As adults who care about their well-being, we want more for them than to conduct their sex lives in this way. When what they’ve seen on TV and online far outweighs their physical experience, the line between real and fake can get very blurry. Birmingham University is hosting a series of debates for the NSPCC about ‘contentious issues’. The first one was held last month and focused on the sexualisation of children. Dionne Taylor of Birmingham University said, ‘My research into this area argues overwhelmingly that popular culture has a “negative impact on young women’s self-esteem”; deriving from overtly sexualised and demeaning lyrics and images.’
Women are often portrayed in music videos as objects of desire for men to consume and icons for women to aspire to. Men are shown, often fully clothed, as pimp-like characters surrounded by women who will do whatever they can to please the men. The truth is that when we portray women and men in these ways, no-one wins. In this paradigm we all miss out on the intimacy we were created for. We diminish the value of each person when we reduce them simply to a body controlled by desire.
Lots is being done to protect our children and young people. From October 1st onwards, online music videos have carried an age classification and internet filters are better and easier to set up than ever before. But that is not enough.
If we want to see long term relational and sexual health we must stop assuming that all young people are critical consumers of online content. They often aren’t. Sure, some have experienced great youth work and parenting and are developing these skills, but I’m regularly meeting young people who are taking huge risks online. They know the risks, they know the dangers and even the damage they might be doing, but they do need some help putting all of the pieces together. That’s crucial in preventing exploitation.
Much better than installing internet filters and monitoring TV use is to install internal filters that can ask tough questions about what they’re watching and make good decisions about it. As youth workers we must engage; help young people to critically engage with the world around them, talk about healthy sex, and most importantly teach them to build healthy relationships.