Recently, I came across a video of a social experiment that was created to bring about awareness to young girls (read ages 10-15) about the dangers of social media and child predators. While I was happy to see that there are people out there like this gentleman Coby Persin who are taking it upon themselves to raise awareness and educate the young minds, it also saddened me that the world around us has reached a stage where even young children are not safe from sexual predators. It got me thinking, the liability for this situation definitely cannot be on the children. Children absorb everything that they see, hear and feel around them. So it has to come from what they have been witnessing around them!
Off late, what has our children been observing? Everything they see and hear from the media especially social media. Media has been dictating our lives with what is right and what is wrong, what is in fashion and what is outdated, which destination is a must visit and which ones not so much. It has literally taken over our lives and we all depend on it for everything. In this scenario, it comes as no surprise that even our children are enthralled by it. As parents, we can educate our children on the do’s and don’ts of social media and to be vigilant, but how far can we control what children absorb into their young inexperienced minds?
Over the years media has been highly successful in sexualizing children. Clothing ads from places like Abercrombie & Fitch, American Apparel, Prada, Guess and many other fashion house use sexually provocative images featuring young models. Every other day there is an article of how an advertisement/poster for a particular brand has been banned for inappropriately displaying child models in their features. Some of these models start as young as 8 years old like Thylane Blondeau who featured in the controversial Vogue Paris spread at the age 9 or 10. Without sounding orthodox, the clothes and make-up adorned by the model seemed inappropriate for children.
However, young minds don’t see the controversy, they see the beauty and the attention that comes with it. And in the effort to gain that kind of attention, they blindly follow what they see. Girls as young as 11 and 12 years dress up in high heels, tank tops and short shorts that leave little to the imagination. They start applying make-up and lipstick in the bid to appear confident and attractive to the boys. Even the boys are not far behind, they have the pressure to keep up and look as stylish and chiseled as the male models. As they grow up, they are expected to have washboard six-pack abs and Greek God looks to be ‘worthy’ of the girls. Those who are not able to keep up are shamed and made to feel like ‘losers’.
Peer pressure and the burning desire to sustain the competition pushes the children into the vast world of the ‘internet’ at the tender age when they are still naïve and innocent. This makes them vulnerable and easy targets for sexual predators. The predators lurking behind the social media pose as teens or young adults to lure the children and spark a ‘relationship’. It is as easy as that.
In the year 2013, the Terre des Hommes International Federation for Children (TDHIF) carried out a 10-week sting near Amsterdam, posing on video chat rooms as “Sweetie”, a 10-year-old Filipina girl. Some 20,000 men contacted her, with 1,000 found to have offered her money in exchange for sexual acts. The results of their research was astounding. The names of the pedophiles worldwide discovered by this stint were then passed onto the police.
This was only an experiment, imagine this happening in real to your child. More and more parents are concerned and trying to do things, but it’s getting harder and harder for parents to do their jobs. The fashion industry, manufacturers of products for children and the entertainment industry all have a role to play in this. They make the parent’s job difficult and push things onto the children’s lives. This is endorsed by the media in a way that it becomes hard to fight back. However, there are some organizations that have developed over the past few years that is fighting hard against this problem. Organizations like SPARK (Sexualization Protest: Action, Resistance, Knowledge) was founded in 2010, in response to the Report of the APA Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls. They help counteract this stigma by educating parents as well as children on the stereotyping and sexualizing of boys and girls by the media.
I am glad to note that there are many smilar organizations that are now working alongside parents against this problem. It is high time that our children are given the childhood they deserve. For soon enough they will have to face the realities of adulthood.