Parents urge schools not to encourage generation of 'lolitas'

12th February 2010 at 00:00
Young people are more likely to listen to teachers about the dangers of inappropriate dress, researchers report

Parents want schools to do more to deal with "sexualisation", according to research commissioned by a parliamentary inquiry. It was prompted by concerns that children are being harmed by increasing levels of sexual imagery.

Some parents feel action by schools would be more effective than their trying to tackle issues such as inappropriate dress with their own children.

But they also complained they did not have enough of a say over some school activities which they felt exacerbated early sexualisation, such as primary school end-of-year "proms", when P7 pupils are encouraged to wear adult-style evening wear and arrive in limousines.

Parents also feel that policies in secondary on uniform and make-up can reinforce the problem and undermine their ability to "set limits", according to the report commissioned by the Parliament's equal opportunities committee.

It cites research by the American Psychological Association, which found that early sexualisation among girls could lead to poor concentration in exams, physical and mental health problems, sexual stereotyping and unhealthy attitudes to sexuality.

The research for MSPs found a range of sexualised products in 32 retail outlets aimed at young people under 16. These included Hello Kitty Sexy Little Mints, sweets found in the three- to four-year-old age-group in Amazon's Toys and Games section; the Kylie range, including strappy vest tops and black ra-ra skirts with lace and underwear marketed prominently at ages seven to 13 by M and "One-Night Stand" temporary hair colour at Claire's Accessories. For boys, there were Playboy-monogrammed T-shirts in small sizes (XXS) and Monkee Genes (low-rise, low-slung jeans from size 26-inch waist with an extra-short leg) at Topman.

The researchers also worked with 57 pupils aged 12 to 14 from three schools, setting them various activities, including a brief to design a doll to compete with Barbie and Bratz.

The research showed that pupils objected to suggestions that they were putting themselves at risk or that they were passive and ignorant recipients of sexual messages. They warned that if the Scottish Government were to regulate the sale of these products, it would receive hate mail from young people and suffer a loss of tax revenue.

"The only regulation they considered perhaps necessary was the provision of age guidelines or labels on products," the report added. It concluded that any attempt to control the production and distribution of sexualised goods, or at least to control children's access to them, was likely to be fraught with difficulties.

Instead, pupils would benefit from an "educational" approach using "media literacy" or personal and social education.

elizabeth.buie@tes.co.uk.

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