One of the greatest ways we can impact this world is by raising our children to be responsible, healthy, compassionate adults who will be proactive in seeing justice served. In a culture rife with immorality, innappropriate sexuality and boundless greed, raising healthy children is difficult.
Someone once said, “The standard you walk past is the standard you set.” Melinda Tankard Reist is a women who takes this responsibility seriously.
Melinda is an author, speaker and advocate for women and girls. I spent some time with her this week and she shared some great advice for raising healthy children in a sex-saturated culture. I had a video all prepared but to my great disappointment, YouTube couldn’t load it (lesson learned about massive files!) So, here’s the (less fancy) typed version..
Warning: some strong sexual abuse topics discussed
What advice can you give parents trying to raise healthy children in a sex-saturated culture?
There are a number of things I advise parents and I’m not saying I’ve got it all right. It’s a constant challenge to raise happy, healthy, resillient children in a culture which undermines our efforts to do that.But the first thing I advise is not to buy into the culture which supplies sexualised products, for example clothing with sexualised images, games with violent sexual scenes, magazines which tell girls their whole importance is in attracting male attention. Even the little girls magazines talk about “how to look hot”, “conversation starters for your cute crush” and where to find Lady Gaga in concert. Boycott these toys and brands – find alternatives.
We need to also have the conversations with our children; what’s appropriate touch, what’s inappropriate touch. We need to help them understand that it’s important to respect their body, to respect other’s bodies.
We also have to model healthy relationships, healthy sexuality in our own families and our own relationships, so they can see what’s healthy and what’s not.
So that’s what has to happen personally but we also have to act politically. It’s important that we take these issues up with regulatory bodies and politicians and let them know how we feel about the wall papering of our society with sexualised messaging. We’re trying to raise children in a shadow cast by pornography and it’s exposing children to concepts at an age where they’re not cognitively or developmentally equipped to understand them.
I was in the newsagency with my children not long after a visit to the Zoo. My oldest daughter was in kindergarten so had just begun to read simple words. She was so excited when she saw the word ‘Zoo’ on the newstands and was very confused when she saw the woman on the cover, wearing almost nothing. What do you suggest parents do in these situations?
What a brilliant analogy of Zoo (a popular ‘lads’ mag sold in newsagencys, supermarkets and petrol stations) because that is how Zoo sees women; as animals in a cage to be oggled over; women are just there for the sexual gratification and sexual satisfaction of the male buyer. Zoo treats women as pieces of meat so what you’ve described there is quite accurate.
So what do we do? One of the campaigns that Collective Shout has been part of is to get these magazines out of child’s eye view. Yes we have to have the conversation but why should these magazines be at childs eye level in the lolly section? The question we need to ask is when did pornography come out from behind the counter? Tell the Newsagent – “I have to view pornified images against my will and my children have to view pornified images everytime we come here so I’m not going to come here anymore.” We’re seeing results from that kind of action.
Research shows that viewing over sexualised imagery is having a detrimental physical and mental impact on children. So let’s look at what that research says and stop overexposing them to these images. There was a recent report released by the Australian Crime Commission on the rise of child on child sexual assault. The Australian Crime Commission attributed the rise of child on child sexual assault to the over exposure of sexualised imaging.
It is an imposition on us as women and an imposition on our children to have to view against our will objectified images of women everywhere we look. It’s overtaking and colonising public spaces that we all have to inhabit and so we encourage people not to shop there.
If you’re interested in taking a stand against the sexualisation of our children, visit Collective Shout for more information.
Melinda’s most recent book, Getting Real: challenging the sexualisation of girls explores this topic even further and includes contributions by Steve Biddulph, Maggie Hamilton and Noni Hazelhurst.
Images thanks to Melinda Tankard Reist