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Dating at 10!
It's Truly the End of Innocence
|by Ajitha Menon|
Ten-year-old Aditya doesn't draw too well so when his parents were told at the teacher-parents meeting that a certain drawing by their son needed to be discussed, they were nonplussed. As expected, the drawing in question did not have great artistic merit, but the diligent and precise labeling of the anatomical parts of the woman subject was noteworthy.
"My first reaction was a smile, which I stifled. By my second was of shock: That my little boy could actually draw the body parts of a woman correctly. My third reaction was, Oh, My God! How do I deal with this?" says Ajay Pillai, a Bangalore-based professional.
The teacher, of course, was not amused. The drawing was apparently being passed around in the classroom of the co-ed school where Aditya studied, from boy to boy. "Basic biology is being taught in my son's grade, so it was okay that he knew the details, what worried the teacher was the attitude towards a woman's body that the youngster's drawing revealed," says Aditya's mom, Rekha.
Similar stories abound among parents with young children growing into sexual awareness. "The curiosity is starting earlier. We started thinking about such things in our late teens, but now children develop an interest in the opposite sex from as young as 8 or 9 years, largely because of their lifestyles and exposure to books, comics, magazines, television and films," says Anuradha Sharma, mom to two young girls.
Experts agree that physiological changes among children are occurring early today, with puberty setting in around 8-12 years in many cases instead of the earlier 13-15 years. "The blatant sexualisation of children in advertising, marketing, television shows, films, music videos, and so on, is giving the youngsters a distorted sense of reality. They are actually developing a disrespect towards their own bodies and those of the opposite sex," says Ratnabali Ghosh, a teacher at the prestigious Ballygunge Shiksha Sadan, in Kolkata.
Even Aditya's eight-year-old sister Ria, whose friends have already introduced her to Archie comics, displays great curiosity about what boyfriends and girlfriends do. Even when her bedtime stories end with "the prince and the princess got married and lived happily ever after", she wants to know how one gets married. What happens after one is married? "Even a children's movie like 'The Karate Kid' had a kissing scene. Ria was extremely curious about that. How do you explain the ease of a teenage kiss in a western movie to an Indian kid with different cultural values?" asks her aunt Shobhana.
"The questions are coming at an early age and it's essential to reply honestly and clearly," says Ajay. He adds, "I had a talk with Aditya about his interest in girls and I told him how girls are different to boys with respect to their bodies and why: That when they grow up they carry babies, feed their babies, and so on. I explained how his mom gave birth to him. I made it clear that it was not a laughing matter and how much respect a women deserved. I hope he got the message. With the world becoming a global village, there is uniform access to information. Children, whether they are located in the West or the East, are exposed to the same things. Nothing can be brushed under the carpet anymore or hidden or left unexplained."
Anuradha's school-going daughter has a boyfriend. "She wants to go out on dates. In a city like Bengaluru, there is immense peer pressure in this regard. Then there is the influence of media. If I say no, I am instantly a villain. So I say yes and keep worrying the whole time she is out. I have spoken to her about a woman's body, about love-making, about reproduction. She now understands that the whole thing is about respecting one's body and being responsible for one's acts."
Consider some of the fare that is on offer on television these days: Children doing pelvic thrusts, heaving their bosoms, making titillating, suggestive gestures with their eyes and lips on dance shows. You have a six- or seven-year- old girl being married to an eight- or nine-year-old boy in serials like 'Balika Vadhu'. You have children dressed like adults with adult mannerisms cracking adult jokes on comedy shows and reality television. These are all examples of the sexualisation of children, a trend that has serious repercussions for society.
Such programmes have a two-pronged effect. First, they pressurise children into exhibiting sexualised behaviour themselves. This often leads, in turn, to children becoming sexually active at a very young age and facing the consequences that inevitably follow. Second, many adults viewing such material get the wrong ideas about child sexuality, leading to an increase in the incidence of the sexual abuse of minors.
"Look at how children are used in advertisements. They are made to dress and behave like sexy models. Kids' fashion is often a copy of adult fashion and companies are selling G-strings and bras to six-year-olds now. It's 'corporate paedophilia' as a report from The Australia Institute called it," says Malancha Ghosh, an outraged teacher at Kolkata's Rammohan Mission School.
"My four-year-old daughter wants to put on make-up and dress up like the children she sees in magazines and on TV. Her classmates want to do the same. They decide on long hair or short, pants or skirts, on the basis of what Hannah Montana, Barbie or the Power Puff Girls are doing," says Amikar Dayal, a Patna-based professional.
The Australia Institute report on early sexualisation of children points out that earlier children became indirectly sexualised with exposure to adult and teen sexuality in ads and other media. But, lately, children themselves are being turned into miniature versions of sexy adults, leading to direct sexualisation.
"Childlike innocence is a thing of the past. Precocious children seem to be everywhere - be it on shows, movies, ads or music videos. Children now have a competitive, market driven take on food habits, holidays and family lifestyle and leisure activities. Earlier kids were into sports and games, but now most of them are into Internet, television and fashion. They don't remain just kids," remarks Sayeda Dayal, Kolkata-based mother of four-year-old Samarah.
The social repercussions are visible in the form of drug abuse, alcoholism, rising school drop-out rates, juvenile crime, increase in teenage pregnancies and abortions, and rise in cases of depression and even suicide among children.
"The children get half-baked and unreal ideas from friends, media and pornography. Susceptibility levels are high and they develop preconceived notions about behaviour and attitudes. Parents should be open about sexual matters when children ask questions. It's also imperative to channelise their energies towards sports, music, drawing and other hobbies. Parental supervision should be mandatory in selecting the books to be read or the television programmes to be viewed. Parents should also know what internet sites their children are visiting," advises psychologist, Mohar Mala Chatterjee.
When we, as a society, accept the way over-the-counter contraceptive pills are now being advertised and sold, we should also realise that information of this kind also reaches children who view television - sometimes far in excess of what is advisable. We also laugh at sexual jokes cracked by children on a prime-time show and with great enjoyment critically analyse an "item number" presented by a 12-year-old dressed provocatively for another programme. Considering all this, it is obvious that aside from providing counselling and guidance for youngsters, adults themselves need to drastically redefine their responsibilities towards children.
(Names of the children and parents have been changed to protect their identity.)
By arrangement with WFS
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08/15/2010 22:25 PM
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