A recent article in the UK’s Independent newspaper bemoaned the ‘loss of innocence’ of our young people, and led a call for greater efforts to tackle young people’s consumption of media, specifically pornographic images and films that are so widely and easily available online. Are young people dangerously more savvy and worldly-wise today, or is this generation, like each preceding one before it, simply acting out the rituals of adolescence, albeit in new ways?
The teenage years have always been fraught with challenges, hurdles, and ups and downs, for young people and the adults surrounding them. The rush of hormones, development of identity, and blossoming of sexuality are compounded with the pressures of high school life and all that it entails – academic achievement, friendship dramas, and for some youth, challenges at home, too.
This is the picture painted of each generation of teens, much the same as the generation before. But to what extent does twenty-first century life influence that experience?
Our young people are avid – and often unconscious – consumers of all forms of media. They are literally bombarded with imagery and messages at a near-constant level, and nearly every whim they have can be accommodated with a couple of clicks on smart devices often provided by well meaning parents. What lends caution to us adults about the online world is the memory of a time pre-technology, but to our ‘digital natives’ there is no such sense of trepidation.
Technology provides us with many benefits, and for parents, teachers and youth workers technology represents real and frightening downsides. From young people’s experimentations with ‘sexting’ to the constant advertising campaigns spawning negative body image, the Internet is influencing our young, whether we like it or not.
Research tells us that young people are becoming active consumers – and creators – of pornography at an alarming and growing rate. Apps such as Snapchat have lent a sense of perceived normality to exchanging explicit messages with one’s peers, and most children and young people claim they have seen or heard something online which has made them feel upset or uncomfortable.
In our work with young people we hear stories of children barely in their teens considering how best to present themselves to the opposite sex, and engaging in sexual activity to be part of the crowd. Not just a case of ‘fitting in’, these days the easy access to violent and extreme pornography has skewed some young people’s perceptions of what constitutes a normal, healthy and consensual relationship, and as one young lady stated, “everyone thinks I’m a slag so I may as well be one.”
It is easy to turn a blind eye to the exploits of this super-charged generation of teens, who seem so savvy and knowledgeable, and have access to so much at their finger tips. We can dismiss their antics as ‘kids being kids’ and try not to think about the lasting impact of their digital footprints, from cyber bullying and harassing posts on social media, to naked photographs circling the Internet thanks to a vengeful partner or a schoolyard ‘prank’. But all too soon the fallout of these 21st century problems will begin to emerge – if they haven’t done so already – and it will be too late to regain the loss of innocence of our young.
At Full Circle we passionately believe in educating, informing and inspiring young people, and their parents, carers, and teachers, to be aware of their choices and responsibilities in our digitally connected world. If you, like us, want to be better equipped to support young people then join us at our conference celebrating International Day of the Girl on October 9th in Cardiff. The conference will present research, policy and best practice for working with girls and young women, and will address this issue among many others. Learn more about the conference here, and read the full Independent article on the ‘Loss of Innocence’ here.