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.