David Cameron warned advertisers, magazines and broadcasters today that they faced tough action from a Conservative government to protect children from sexual and violent images.
The Tory leader, who has a five-year-old daughter and a three-year-old son, protested that young children were subjected to “premature sexualisation” and “arbitrary violence” in the media.
He has previously condemned the sale of padded bras and sexy knickers aimed at under-10s in the high street. Today he went further, warning that Tory ministers would be prepared to ban raunchy and violent images likely to be seen by youngsters. Retailers could also be told to take inappropriate products off their shelves.
Mr Cameron said: “It’s high time the children’s market and advertisers show much more restraint in the way they operate.
“We don’t want to resort to regulation. But we will make it clear that if business doesn’t exercise some corporate responsibility, we will not be afraid to impose it.
“The media needs to show some restraint as well. The premature sexualisation of our children has already gone way too far. There is way too much arbitrary violence in the lives of children too young to understand irony or fantasy. Businesses have got to understand parents don’t like it and want it to stop.”
The Conservative leader said he was about to publish detailed plans for making Britain more “family-friendly” and said: “I have asked my colleagues to consider all options in pursuit of our aim of stopping the premature sexualisation and excessive commercialisation of our children.”
Condemning the “culture of suspicion and paranoia” discouraging grown-ups from approaching youngsters, he said: “It’s time we gave children back their childhood and got adults to behave like adults.”
In a wide-ranging speech on supporting the family, he argued that what mattered most to a child’s prospects was “not the wealth of their upbringing, but the warmth of their parenting”.
He repeated his promise to recognise marriage and civil partnerships within the tax system by reform to tax credits to end the penalty against couples. He said: “These changes are about the message, more than the money. The message they send is that our society values commitment.”
Mr Cameron also said a Tory government would make it easier for parents to work flexi-hours and improve access to marriage guidance counselling.
He dismissed Labour charges that the Sure Start network of centres for parents with young children was at risk under the Tories. He announced that they would be overhauled, with outside organisations brought in to run them, with the intention of refocusing them on supporting “disadvantaged and dysfunctional families”.
He pledged the appointment of extra health visitors to support parents struggling to cope.
Mr Cameron argued that children needed to learn acceptable behaviour in “disciplined, ordered classrooms”.
He praised an ethos that instils “a respect for authority, with pupils dressing smartly and standing up when their teacher enters the classroom”.