Teachers want age ratings on girls' teen magazines

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The Independent Online

Teachers have called for magazines aimed at teenage girls to be given age ratings to protect children from sexually explicit material.

Teachers have called for magazines aimed at teenage girls to be given age ratings to protect children from sexually explicit material.

Speakers at a teaching conference yesterday said pupils as young as nine were reading magazines that glamorised sex and encouraged promiscuity.

Magazines such as Cosmo Girl, Bliss and Sugar were a far cry from the days of Bunty and Jackie, teachers at the Association of Teachers and Lecturers conference in Birmingham were told.

Ralph Surman, deputy headteacher of Cantrell primary school, Nottingham, said young children were being exposed to "a high level of continuous harm".

Features in Cosmo Girl last month included "I had a secret affair with my teacher" and a discussion of a 16-year-old girl who had given her boyfriend oral sex by the third date.

Sugar included features on "Could a boob job make you beautiful?" and "Ten tricks he'll use to get you to have sex without a condom".

Mr Surman said that one article in Sugar which featured photographs of several girls - including one of 12 - and invited readers to telephone in and tell them their favourite amounted to "child abuse".

The magazines insist they are aiming for the 14-plus market, but Mr Surman said they were offering gifts such as lip gloss and plastic jewellery that would be attractive to a younger audience. The magazines were easily availableto younger children at newsagents, he said. He added: "I believe that many of the teen magazines that are freely available on the shelves in our shops pose a significant harm and danger to children. The reading material is simply inappropriate for the age at which it is targeted."

Mr Surman said that teachers who had taken nine, 10, 11 and 12-year-olds on residential trips found that they were reading such magazines before they went to bed. "There is an unease about what it is they are reading about ... We are talking about the glamorisation of sex and the commercialisation of promiscuous behaviour which is completely unacceptable in terms of being a teacher who is responsible for looking after young girls."

Lesley Ward, a teacher from Intake primary school, Doncaster, said: "A child who looks at these magazines thinks everybody seems to be doing it; it says so here.

"With children of this age, the people who should be talking to them about sex and relationships should be people who they trust, not something they pay £1.35 for."

Mr Surman said he did not blame parents, who took the magazines on trust, but added: "I think the publishers should get their act together." He said that he had spoken to newsagents who said they would welcome a system under which the magazines would have stamped on the front cover the age group they were suitable for. Some newsagents had refused to sell the magazines to young girls. "A certification system would give some teeth to that structure and avoid confrontation over the counter," he said.

Charles Clarke, the Secretary of State for Education, said he had every sympathy with the teachers' complaints. However, it was not within his remit to introduce a ratings system.

Representatives of the magazines said they were aimed at 14-year-olds and above. They could not be responsible for policing who bought them.