Writer Professor Louise Newman.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists is concerned about the sexualisation of children in the contemporary media.

Professor Louise Newman, of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, recently presented ‘Too hot to handle: The psychological impact of sexualisation in the media’ at the Australian Conference on Children and the Media in Sydney. The theme of the conference was ‘Growing up fast and furious: Reviewing the impacts of violent and sexualised media on children’.

“Sexualisation of children involves the imposition of adult models of sexual behaviour and sexuality on to children and adolescents at developmentally inappropriate stages and in opposition to the healthy development of sexuality. It encompasses sexual objectification and representation of children in adult sexual ways and in ways that imply the child’s value is dependent on conforming to a particular appearance, sexual display or behaviours,” said Professor Louise Newman.

“There is growing evidence that premature exposure to adult sexual images and values has a negative impact on the psychological development of children, particularly on self-esteem, body image and understanding of sexuality and relationships,” said Professor Newman.

“Exposure to sexualising messages contributes to girls defining their self-worth and popularity in terms of sexual attractiveness, with negative impact on self-esteem. Excessive focus on appearance and a narrow definition of attractiveness has been found to contribute to the development of abnormal eating behaviours and lack of positive body image. Negative self-image is associated with depression, impaired sexual development in adolescence and poor self-protective behaviours in adolescent relationships,” she said.

“Sexualised themes are frequently associated with depiction of aggression, and particularly depictions of male aggressive sexuality, and portrayal of girls and women as passive sexual objects. These may have particular impact on the development of emerging models of sexual behaviour and relationships,” said Professor Newman, adding the mental health of children and adolescents is supported if they are able to develop an age and developmentally appropriate sense of their self and their sexuality”.

“Several strategies are recommended to prevent the further proliferation of sexualised images of children. These include media regulation and psycho-educational approaches to provide children and adolescents with skills in media analysis and understanding of the impact of sexualised images and programs. These strategies aim to develop healthy sexual development and body image in the face of media representation. School based media literacy programs have been found to have a positive effect on body image concerns in girls,” said Professor Newman.

Professor Newman concluded by saying “Parenting programs should also encompass approaches to supervision of children’s media exposure and education of children about media representation. Research should be focused on understanding the short and longer term impacts of sexualisation of children and the efficacy of media literacy programs and other targeted interventions.”

Writer Professor Louise Newman. Editor Dr Ramesh Manocha.

SOURCE: The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists

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