Penny Nicholls: Lads mags <i>should</i> be singled out for attention

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The Independent Online

Many British companies should be ashamed of themselves.

Research by the Children's Society proves beyond doubt that irresponsible and unprincipled advertising, marketing and media coverage is encouraging the premature sexualisation of children and seriously undermining their well-being.

We surveyed 7,000 children aged 10 to 15 across England. They reported that the aspect of life that caused them most unhappiness was, of all things, their appearance. Some 17 per cent of children said that they were unhappy with their looks, a figure that rose to 28 per cent among 15-year-old girls.

Ruthless commercial interests in this country relentlessly convey stereotypical and hyper-sexualised images to sell products. Is it surprising that young people end up valuing the wrong things in other people?

Second, the Good Childhood Inquiry report found that children who were more materialistic had lower self-esteem and a poorer opinion of their parents. Commercial pressures were forcing girls especially to grow up quickly, leading to premature sexualisation, materialism, boredom, and increased rates of self-harming.

One in 10 five- to 16-year-olds now has clinically significant mental-health difficulties ranging from anxiety, depression and inattentiveness (ADHD) through to uncontrollable or destructive behaviour. Two-fifths of children surveyed admitted to feeling worse about themselves after looking at pictures of models, pop stars or actresses.

Penny Nicholls is the director of Children and Young People at the Children's Society