Culture of Confidentiality


Clare Perry, the rising star in the Conservative Party and David Cameron’s new advisor on childhood has said some eminently sensible and refreshing things today which will no doubt cause Louise Mensch to turn a shade of green.

Mrs Perry, a mother of three, points out that it should not be assumed that children have an automatic right to privacy and that society as a whole has been complicit in a culture which allows children to make unsupervised and inappropriate contact with strangers any time of the day or night.

She argues, in the same way that I did post publication of the Bailey Report, that parents need to take ownership and responsibility for their children’s internet access on their laptops and mobile phones. If you don’t want your children to have unsupervised access to the net, either don’t buy them a device, or if you must, install various filtering software and blocks. If your child is up on the internet until the early hours of the morning, then the solution is simple – switch the darn router off. He who pays the piper, calls the tune!

I grew up in the eighties and nineties where having access to one’s own private telephone line was an unimaginable luxury, although admittedly in my day, mobile phones were simply beyond the means of most individuals, not only in terms of money, but also in terms of sheer size, with the look, feel and weight of a house brick. Like most households of that time, our telephone was situated in a very public place, on the hall table and consisted of an unwieldy non portable handset, with a dial – push buttons were the last word in decadence. As a result all incoming telephone calls were received in a public place, every word could be overheard and any talk about one’s love-life either with friends or heaven forbid the young man himself had to be couched in code, making the whole thing far more exciting that I’m sure it would otherwise have been.

Ever mindful of the bill and the fact that my father ran a business from home, calls had to be kept quite short and it would not have occurred to me to pick up the phone and make a call without first asking permission. As teenagers, if we did answer the phone and the call was indeed for us, we would have to inform our parents as to the identity of the caller. My father is something of an eccentric and used to delight in causing maximum mortification by deliberately winding up callers for myself and my sister. My best friend Anna, was regularly treated to a medley of hits from the King and I, female friends would be sung to and any male callers could be guaranteed either to have my father’s version of Stanley Unwin’s language, or worse still, not be allowed to speak to us until they had made the request or spoken an entire sentence in Latin!

It’s difficult to know whether or not the internet could have got us into trouble as children, my parents were sensible types but equally I can see how difficult it is for parents these days, many of whom might not be as conversant in the new technology as their kids, but Mrs Perry is right to state that parents have a responsibility to regulate their children’s internet access. Given that it is practically impossible to escape the internet in one form or another and that it will be an integral part of children’s lives, it does seem fitting that the IT curriculum should incorporate lessons on basic safety and service providers and the industry as a whole should agree a new code of conduct, along similar lines to the rules of broadcasting.

It goes without saying that children and adolescents do need to be afforded some level of trust and privacy and we need to be realistic that at some point they probably will use the internet to get up to some naughtiness or other (just as children used to look up all the rude words in the dictionary), but limiting the scope for mischief, whilst helping them learn responsible behaviour, can be no bad thing and neither should it be left entirely in the hands of schools or regulators. Parents do have the primary responsibility.

But has anyone spotted the huge inconsistency yet? Clare Perry has correctly pointed out how internet technology can be used to degrade , objectify and sexualise young girls who are often at the receiving end of sexual bullying, citing the terrible case of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, the 13 year old girl who fell to her death from the top of a tower block whilst begging her boyfriend to delete a sex tape he’d made on her phone.

‘We’ve given our children all these opportunities to communicate in private, but we’ve lost the confidence to actually get involved in that.

You have to ask yourself whether or not confidential sex advice, access to contraception and abortions provided to teens without the parents’ knowledge or consent has enabled and encouraged that attitude. Whether the deliberate exclusion of parents from knowledge pertaining to their children’s development and welfare and usurping of parental role in the provision of sex education has produced a generation of impotent parents who lack the skills and confidence to intervene?

‘We have to feel more empowered to ask. Make sure your kids allow you to be friends with them on Facebook, ask them whether what they are doing is appropriate.

But whatever you do, don’t ask them whether or not they are taking large doses of synthetic hormones designed to subdue their developing fertility, don’t ask them whether or not they are having sex and whatever you do don’t try to prevent them from doing so. What your child is being taught about sex , whether or not they are engaging in sex or risky sexual behaviour, whether or not they might be aborting their unborn baby is none of your concern as a parent.

Whilst schools continue to provide under 16s with contraceptive advice, products and abortions without the knowledge or consent of their parents, frankly fussing about whether or not they have unfettered access to Facebook or the internet is like re-arranging the deckchairs on the Titanic. How can parents be expected to protect their children when they are excluded from the most crucial and key decisions involving their personal health?

Make no mistake, the internet and mass media can have a deleterious effect on children’s development and expose them to sexual predators and unrealistic visions of sex, sexuality and body image. But just as harmful can be the physical effects of early sexual activity which stems from premature exposure to the internet and sexualisation. Isn’t it time for a double-stranded approach?

The Bailey Review

I took a look at the recommendations of the Bailey Review this morning. As a Christian mother who is concerned that her children don’t pick up unhealthy messages regarding sex and society, the report is of obvious interest. The recommendations are outlined below, together with my comments.

putting age restrictions on music videos to prevent children buying sexually explicit videos, and to guide broadcasters over when to show them

That seems reasonable enough, given some of the hard-core porn type content of certain R&B music videos and some of the lyrics. It’s probably unnecessary however, given that mainstream broadcasters already exercise sensible judgement in terms of what they screen and when. Anyone remember the Girls on Film video by Duran Duran? A highly abridged clip was only ever broadcast. Same with Michael Jackson’s Thriller. I remember the first time that appeared in full on British Television with much emphasis placed on the broadcast time of after 9pm. No trip down the memory lane of ’80s music is complete without a reference to Frankie Goes to Hollywood  and  Relax…Dedicated music channels don’t show explicit videos during the day. I can see the sense in putting age categorisations on music videos, but I suspect it won’t change an awful lot, and often age categorisations only increase the lure and kudos of this type of material. Pop music has always been subversive. My mother was banned from listening to Bill Hailey and the Comets when she was a teen in the fifties. The nuns thought it was “decadent”. I  don’t want my children to be singing “I’m horny, horny, horny, horny” or similar, so for that reason we don’t listen to commercial radio stations.

covering up sexualised images on the front pages of magazines and newspapers so they are not in easy sight of children

What is a sexualised image? Surely what is sexy is in the eye of the beholder? You only need to pay a visit to one of Cologne’s finest pornographers to see what passes as sexy to some is comedically ludicrous. (I should state here, that in my wild days as cabin crew, a very camp young man who decided I needed educating, took me into his favourite shop in Cologne for a giggle.Upon viewing the magazine cover which featured nothing more daring than a young lady in a bikini and an elephant, I erupted into peals of hysterical laughter and was forcibly ejected from the shop by the proprietor for inappropriate mirth. “Eeet iizzz NOT funny, eeez serious artistic erotica”.)

I’ll stop there before I get myself into too much trouble. I do agree that retailers need to ensure that lads’ mags are placed out of eye level of children, it isn’t ideal needing to explain to a 5 year old that the lady on the front of the magazine isn’t about to feed her baby, or why she is wearing long socks and knickers that go right up her bum (that must be painful mummy). Retailers need to implement a voluntary code and ensure that these types of magazines are placed firmly on the top shelf. At present men’s “lifestyle” magazines don’t fall into quite the same category as blatant erotica, hence they are placed in places designed to catch the eye and be accessible. Normally in the checkout queue, to aid impulse purchases.

Some retailers are responsible, others not so, but the notion of a “sexualised” image is highly subjective, and we need to ensure that we don’t go too far in this respect. We don’t want to be photoshopping in extra sleeves, in order that a glimpse of bare flesh may corrupt, as happens in Emirate states.

making every customer make a decision at the point of purchase over whether they want adult content on their home internet, laptops or smart phones, rather than receiving it automatically

At last, an entirely sensible proposition. One that won’t please the pornographers, but the only caveat is that adult content filters can prover incredibly frustrating. We have been banned from accessing well known Christian bloggers, I haven’t been able to view websites containing advice on pregnancy and giving birth and often email will fall into spam filters. Most adults would opt to receive adult content and put their own filters or controls in place. I have no problem with this option being offered, but we need to ensure that no record is kept of who has opted in or out of such controls. I believe it happens in practice anyway, I am with Vodaphone and because I haven’t automatically enabled some widget or other I automatically have an age-restriction on my phone, meaning I can’t access adult material. Fundamentally however, I can’t see a problem with offering people the option. If you  really want your children to be safe on the internet, don’t buy them a smartphone and don’t let them have their own laptop.

retailers to offer more age-appropriate clothes for children and sign up to a code of practice which checks and challenges the design, buying, display and marketing of clothes, products and services for children

Covered this yesterday. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it for your child. We don’t need nanny questioning whether or not this is really appropriate. My sister had a sixth form job working in Laura Ashley and was in receipt of free clothes as part of the job. On wearing a long flowery halter neck dress to school one day, she was sent home to change by Sister Margaret Mary for coming to school attired in “beachwear”. The idea of code of practice that “challenges design” seems rather sinister. How far will they take this. My 7 year old has one of these. Will that be inappropriate as it will be deemed to be foisting a religion upon her?  Why can’t we let the free market rule?

restricting outdoor adverts containing sexualised imagery where large numbers of children are likely to see them, for example near schools, nurseries and playgrounds

OK, we’re getting into the realms of paranoia now. Either a billboard advert is suitable to be seen by children or it isn’t. Isn’t that the role of the ASA? Again what is suitable for children, will vary from person to person. Surely there is already a consensus on the types of advert that are suitable for public display.

giving greater weight to the views of parents above the general public in regulating pre-watershed TV

I really don’t like this one at all. Why on earth should the views of parents be more valid than the views of everyone else? So if you don’t like a certain scene or programme being shown at a certain time on TV, maybe because you were watching it with your delicate Aunt Mabel, your views are not as valid as those with young children. Since when did having children render you more wisdom in terms of  gleaning what may be appropriate viewing material? The moment my baby popped out meant that I can have greater say as to what’s on television? Great. More programmes like the History of Christianity, Scared Music and less football please. That’s what “my” children should be watching. I don’t want my children to be watching scenes with sexual references. That’s why we don’t watch much live TV. That’s what DVD players and now more recently the Iplayer are there for. The advent of technology means that we’re no longer tied to broadcaster’s schedules and there is an argument to be made that the watershed could be obsolete, although I am in favour of keeping it as a general principle. Are our broadcasters not already regulated?

providing parents with one single website to make it easier to complain about any programme, advert, product or service

We have this already. It’s called Mumsnet.

banning the employment of children under 16 as brand ambassadors and in peer-to-peer marketing, and improving parents’ awareness of advertising and marketing techniques aimed at children.

So no more Miss Pears then? I’m struggling to think of any under 16s who are brand ambassadors, but maybe someone down with da kids could tell me. I think most parents are already aware of the effect of advertising on their children, which is why  guidelines have been developed already. My children don’t watch adverts, I like the quiet life. My daughter has seen the “adopt a jaguar” advert in between husband’s surreptious bouts of Stargate, I’ve not heard the end of it. The types of adverts that she does see are not those that are likely to be the cause of  ‘sexualisation’. This last rule seems to be more about curbing advertising aimed at children, which is already the subject of regulation. I can’t see the harm of letting Justin Beiber advertise a can of Coke or whatever.

My daughter has a pair of the dreaded Lelly Kellies. Why? Because they were sparkly, she liked them and had seen her friends wearing them. Absolutely nothing to do with any adverts, or being persuaded that they were the cool brand, she had no idea. She liked them for the product in all their ghastly garishness. They are so obviously a shoe that only a child could like, I have no problem (besides Grandma bought them for her birthday). Shock horror they came with *make up*, i.e. a palate of pastel eye shadow, blusher and lipgloss. She has no idea what to do with make-up, but just possessing it makes her pleased as Punch. The attempts at applying it were a sight to behold, having no idea that blue is not a colour that one would volunatarily use to put one’s forehead. Harmless childhood pleasure, not stemming from sexualisation but a desire to be grown-up, which even the tiniest toddlers posses.

Where the problem with what seem to be over-precocious children lies is entirely with the parents, who perhaps desire a best friend, as opposed to a child. It wouldn’t have been the make-up that was the problem, but had child known exactly how to expertly apply it like an adult; the make-up itself being hardly visible, an extra marketing hook, but as I said yesterday, parents hold all the power in this area.

I am by all accounts a “fundamentalist” Christian, who would wish to bring up her children to wait until marriage for sex and who aims to teach my children conservative messages about sex and society.  I am very keen to keep them safe and prevent them from growing up too soon. But it is not my role to prevent them from growing up, quite the opposite, I wish to help them grow up to be healthy and fulfilled adults able to function as a useful part of society. The way we do that is not by changing society to suit them, but by gradually helping them to adapt to society as it is. If I can keep my children safe from becoming over-commercialised, I would argue that anyone can.

We don’t need illiberal and misconceived legislation which seeks to limit grown-up choices and puts the rights of parents over the rights of everyone else. Children need to learn that the world is often not a nice place and most importantly it does not resolve around them. I often wish that society was more conservative in nature, but the way to do that is not to force it with misconceived legislation.

Advertising and the media is a reflection of society. If this is over-sexualised, then there is a reason why, which goes far beyond a raunchy music video.