Don't blame Willow Smith for 'Summer Fling' - ask why our kids are ageing ever faster

Willow's video is merely a reflection of this unpalatable yet irrefutable truth - that young people are more exposed to sex than ever

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The Independent Online

When I was about 15, Michael Jackson released the music video for his track 'Earth Song'.

On a Thursday night between 7 and 7.30pm, the streets were bereft of teenagers as we collectively sat in front of Top of the Pops. Those were the days.

Anyway, let me remind my brain that the 90s chic also involved centre parted hair, super baggy jeans and looking a bit like you might have a heroin addiction, before I'm swept up in the nostalgia.

'Earth Song' represents MJ's uber-political era. He was on a bit of a mission to highlight the injustices of the world, was our Jacko, and in this particular video he was assuming the role of eco warrior.

The footage featured graphic images of the destruction of the rainforest, an elephant laying maimed and dying after being shot for its tusks and a baby seal being brutally clubbed over the noggin. The next day the right wing tabloids and a number of my mates' Mums were positively purple about the gills with indignation. How DARE Michael showcase something so upsetting and potentially traumatic? And I remember so distinctly thinking 'but this stuff is happening, out in the world. It's not fictitious, gratuitous shocking stuff for shocking stuff's sake. It's documenting an actual phenomenon. If you don't like it, rather than raising your blood pressure huffing about pop music, why not join Greenpeace?'

Which is kind of how I feel 17-ish years later in response to the indignation that surrounds Willow Smith's video and song 'Summer Fling'. Willow is twelve years old and - shock horror - hinting at being sexually active. I thought the Daily Mail article about it was going to make my iPhone explode, such was the level of self-righteous outrage at the notion of underage sex being paraded into the public eye in such a manner.

What all the criticism conveniently neglects to understand is that the number of underage people who are exposed to sex has never been higher. Willow's video is a merely a reflection of this unpalatable yet irrefutable truth. Now, I am not in any minuscule iota of a way suggesting that this is a good thing. But if we don't like it, there are a lot more productive things we can do as a society than having a rant about Willow Smith before going back to an ostrich-like head-in-sand type state and pretending that the whole situation isn't happening because it offends our delicate sensibilities.

If anything, Willow has provided us with a much-needed excuse to have a national conversation about why our children are growing up so meteorically fast, whether or not we are comfortable with that and if not, what we can do to safeguard them emotionally and physically. Crucially, this will involve not looking the other way or throwing our hands up and declaring that we cannot fathom the situation, however tempting.

When I was twelve, I was still a child. All I wanted to do was ride my bike and pretend that I was She-ra. Twelve year olds now do not have that luxury. They do not have it because of sexual imagery, pornography a lot more overt than anything we see in the fairly innocent Willow Smith video, and aggressive advertising they are bombarded from every possible quarter, not least of all the internet, which is omnipresent within their lives. They are both more and less naive than former generations as a consequence. Of course they're having underage sex. Of course they aren't emotionally or physically equipped to deal with it. Let's digest that rather unpleasant truth and find an effective way to help young people navigate the world in which they find themselves.

Rather than railing against Willow Smith, implying that she somehow single-handedly and maliciously harnessed the collective influence of the Smith dynasty to coerce a generation of twelve year olds into sexual activity, let's perhaps question why our current Tory government have dramatically slashed the PSHE budget and the working hours of nurses in schools that might give young people the armour they need to handle the sexual pressure many of them are under.

Let's demand that students in schools are provided with tools which teach them to respect themselves and their bodies, hold off having sex until they really feel ready and protect themselves both physically and mentally when they do.

Let's put pressure on Michael Gove to acknowledge that education is about more than English and Maths and that bringing in an expert to discuss all aspects of sex, not just how to use a condom, just might be more valuable than learning Latin.

Let's champion people like Cindy Gallop, who acknowledged that young people will be irresistibly drawn to pornography if it's out there on the internet and in response created a website 'Make Love Not Porn' that bridged the gap between sex education and sating their curiosity.

Let's put an end to the secret, covert club with an ever-increasing membership of children engaging in sexual activity knowing that the adults in their life will be too wilfully ignorant or too embarrassed to discuss or even to acknowledge it.

It isn't particularly nice to think that twelve year olds are thinking sexual thoughts or embarking on sexual activities, but we have to if we want to reverse that trend and stop it spiralling further. So I'd like to thank Willow Smith for holding a mirror up to a situation within her generation and allowing us, if we are shrewd, to think up practical solutions.