Something else to worry about!

There are a lot of reasons why we might be anxious about the influence of Disney in the children’s clothes and games markets. We might justifiably be concerned about the effects on young people of so much time spent in front of a screen. But I’m not quite ready to include an inevitable slide towards parent abuse among my reasons!

Not having a subscription to the Times newspaper, I bought a real, paper copy last Thursday, 28th February, in order to see the write up of the grant awarded to the University of Brighton for their CPV research. The half column write up on page 5 told me only what I knew already, but I was attracted to an article in Times2 by Helen Rumbelow, and extracts from a book by Sue Palmer, under the headline, Unhappy Daughters: how we are raising a troubled generation.

At first sight this seems to be an article speaking out against the hyper-sexualised and hyper-electronic culture of 21st Century Britain. But while many others have already covered this well, expressing great concern at the direction of travel, Palmer goes further, linking this phenomenon directly to “an increase in developmental disorder, behavioural difficulties and mental health problems”, leaving young girls “on the path to promiscuity and low self-esteem”. Her solution seems to be a return to an age when mothers stayed at home to look after their children, who were free to play outside all day and had none of the electronic toys now available to young and old alike. In that world young girls formed secure attachments to their parents, spent quality time with mothers and fathers who provided good roles models, and learned skills and interests that were about something other than looking your best and complying with the sexual expectations of magazines such as Nuts and Zoo.

You may already feel you can identify some flaws in the argument. For all that we might condemn the current obsession with the colour pink, grooming, celebrity etc. etc., few would wish to turn back the gains in women’s rights or aspirations since the ‘50s. Gender stereotyping is nothing new, and it is of course now much more difficult to escape the influence of the ubiquitous electronic gadgetry.

Sue Palmer discusses different stages of girls’ development, touching on, in this article: From birth – little princess syndrome, From age 8 – the rise of the electronic bedsit and From age 12 – sex and self-confidence. She writes,

Since princesses are traditionally self-obsessed and high-handed, she may then start acting like a small, pink potentate. If, when she starts pre-school, she meets up with other girls who’ve adopted the same persona, the princess culture may begin to threaten parental authority. In recent years I’ve met many mums who’ve told me their daughters refuse to wear anything but party dresses, or to take off their tiaras to go to bed.

Eddie Gallagher introduced us to the notion of over-entitled children (and this seems to be either a graphic explanation of how this comes about, or a disturbing glimpse into a future which none of us can escape), but he also reminds us that, while a shocking and traumatic experience, extreme incidents of parent abuse thankfully remain the experience of a small minority of parents.

We form opinions on a daily basis as to what we find acceptable or not. Sometimes those opinions are revised as more information becomes available, or we reflect further on the influences around us. It seems we have room for plenty more thinking about the issue of gender stereotyping and the place of electronic media in our lives. But at the end of the day, the 21st century is where we are. We need to find a way of dealing with it. And there are a lot more steps in between these two issues and the terrible experience of family violence.

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