Parents are too often complicit in the sexualisation and commercialisation of children, according to Reg Bailey the author of a landmark Government review into childhood.
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Here’s the article in today’s The Daily Telegraph
“Too many parents either willingly encourage or turn a blind eye to their children signing up to Facebook, watching adult films or wearing inappropriate clothing, said Reg Bailey, the author of Letting Children be Children.
The report, well received by campaigners when it was published earlier this month, was commissioned by the Department for Education. It prompted retailers to promise to stop selling “sexy” underwear to children and Ofcom, the broadcast regulator, to pledge to tighten up its use of the watershed.
However, Mr Bailey, speaking to The Daily Telegraph, said that parents were too often “complicit” in the “unthinking drift towards ever greater commercialisation and sexualisation” of children, and that retailers, broadcasters and the Government could not take all of the blame.
He said: “I was alarmed at the number of parents who were complicit in buying 18-rated video games for their children.
“One father said it was OK that he played Grand Theft Auto with his 13-year-old son because it helped them bond together.” He added that there “must be easier ways of bonding” with a child than playing a game that allowed “gangsters to run over prostitutes”.
“That doesn’t seem to be a very healthy balance in a relationship between father and son.”
He was speaking as further evidence suggested that hundreds of thousands of young children are on Facebook, the social networking site, which has rules in place to stop those under the age of 13 signing up.
Karen Fraser, the director of Credos, a think tank which advises the advertising industry, said that in a series of focus groups earlier this month she had discovered that “80 per cent to 90 per cent” of those under 13 were signed up to Facebook.
“Parents have told us they don’t want their children to miss out. They don’t want them to restrict their social life.”
Last year Ofcom, the media watchdog, said one in five children, between eight and 12 years old use social media sites such as Facebook, Bebo or MySpace. Facebook alone has 988,000 under-12s on the site in Britain, according to the latest figures from the Advertising Association.
The Facebook age restriction is in place because of an American federal law, but Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of the website, said he wanted to remove the 13-year-old restriction.
Earlier this year he said: “My philosophy is that for education you need to start at a really, really young age. Because of the restrictions we haven’t even begun this learning process. If they’re lifted then we’d start to learn what works. We’d take a lot of precautions to make sure that they [younger kids] are safe.”
Ms Fraser added that the wide-scale lying about children’s ages in order to sign them up to Facebook had serious implications. If an 8-year-old pretends to be 13 to sign up, when they are actually 13 the site will allow advertising from gambling, alcohol and cosmetic surgery companies to be targeted at their page because Facebook will think they are 18.
Mr Bailey said parents needed to address the number of under-13s on Facebook and the numbers of youngsters playing adult video games. “I am concerned any parent would ignore these age restrictions. They are there for a reason.”
He added that he had spoken to retailers that had reported that shop staff had been assaulted by parents who had been challenged when trying to buy an 18-rated DVD for their children, who were with them.
“That is an appalling situation, but it is a function of poor parenting.”
A spokesman for Facebook said it had a robust age-verification process. He added: “However, recent reports have highlighted just how difficult it is to implement age restrictions on the Internet and that there is no single solution to ensuring younger children don’t circumvent a system or lie about their age. As Mark Zuckerberg recently noted, education is critical to ensuring that people of all ages use the Internet safely and responsibly. We agree with safety experts that communication between parents or guardians and kids about their use of the Internet is vital.”