Something dramatic is happening to adolescents. Adolescent was a time of physical and psychological change, self-absorption, and preoccupation with peer approval and identity formation. It was a time to come to terms with sexuality, to define a sexual self, and to make sexual choices. It was a time when boys and girls focused inward on their own fascinating changes. But that has all changed.
Many of the pressures adolescents have always faced are intensified in this new world. Some factors contributing to this intensification include: more divorced families, chemical addictions, casual sex and violence against women. The media has played a large part in this by sexualizing and objectifying women’s bodies to sell everything from cars to wart remover. Soft and hard-core pornography is everywhere. Music videos, videos games, magazines, and advertisements all promote their products at the detriment of females and as a result, sexual and physical assaults on women are at an all-time high. The beating of Rihanna by Chris Brown is a recent example. After all the consciousness-raising work done in the sixties during the women’s movement, girls should be more confident and liberated, but instead they are more vulnerable and fearful than ever before.
Boys face new challenges too. They constantly have to prove their manhood through violence against girls and through bolder crimes to capture the “bling bling” that indicates status in a world obsessed with material possessions. The time of settling disputes with fists has become passé and now any confrontation, no matter how insignificant, could cost someone their life. Toting a gun or knife is the new norm as is belonging to a gang. And there seems to be a total disregard for life as is evident in the stabbing of a Scarborough man in a bus shelter by a 10-year-old who was told to stop kicking the glass. Boys should be more in touch with their “feminine side” in light of their changing roles in society but instead they are more feared and volatile than ever before.
Parents are facing new challenges as well in this new world. More children are attempting suicide, have eating disorders, alcohol problems, sexually transmitted diseases, self-inflicted injuries, strange phobias, and post traumatic stress reactions to sexual or physical assaults. Parents struggle to raise their children to value themselves as whole people but the media reduces them to bodies usual accompanied by the price of a positive self-image. And in a time of drive-by shootings, date rape, herpes, AIDS and home invasions, parents are feeling like failures because they are unable to protect their children.
The world has become a poisoned environment.
There are many factors to blame for the way the world is currently but the media is the biggest culprit for the spiral of society into degradation. Music videos deceive youth with images of lifestyles that are complete with fancy cars, half-naked men and women, sexual lyrics and scenes, palatial homes, obscene amounts of money, enormous pieces of jewelry, and expensive clothing. The Canadian Radio and Television Corporation has relaxed its regulations which now means that offence words such as “ass” or “bitch” or “pissed” are played on the radio or said on television where once they were bleeped. The American programs that proliferate Canadian culture are bereft of appropriate ratings and often contain offensive language and inappropriate subject matter, which appear without warning. The ratings of PG or 14A vary so widely that you are never sure what is appropriate viewing for adolescents.
The ways the media have dehumanized sex and fostered violence should be a topic of debate in an international forum. The regulations need to be tightened to protect our children and maybe the question of censorship needs to be reintroduced in a public referendum. The world’s governments should work together to develop a policy to promote quality and diverse programming and to protect society and individual citizens from the harmful effects of television.
The average teen watches almost 100 hours of television per week. Parents need to watch television with their children to help them interpret the media because this offers parents many opportunities for raising consciousness.
Parents need to model the respect and equality that they want their children to experience in the world. It is said that you teach people how to treat you so if parents teach their children that only respect and equality is acceptable then children will come to expect that anything less is unacceptable.
Parents also need to have good communication with adolescents in order to encourage rational thought, centered decision and conscious choices.
Society needs to redefine manhood to allow women equality and men pride. The world needs new ways to teach boys to be men. Through the media and advertising, boys are being taught all the wrong lessons. Boys need a model of manhood that excludes violence, misogyny and the objectification of women.
All is not totally lost yet. There are some things that are working. Schools and workplaces now offer clear harassment policies that protect students and employees and establish norms for appropriate conduct. Schools also have anti-bullying programs that are working to protect our children. Our federal and provincial Human Rights legislation also offer some protection.
Change will not happen overnight but we can and should be working together towards creating a better future with healthier, happier, better-adjusted children. Changing the way the media communicates with our children is a step in the right direction. Take the first step by turning off the television and radio more often.
The main things that kids learn from television are addictions, violence and sexuality. – Ralph Nader
These are interesting times.
C. Carol Brown