Written statement to Parliament

Sarah Teather responds to the Independent Review of the Commercialisation and Sexualisation of Childhood

The Children's Minister responds to recommendations proposed by Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers' Union, in his review.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Sarah Teather

It is natural for parents to want the best for their children. It is just as natural for them to want to do what they can to protect their children from the potential risks to their health, happiness and safety. Among the concerns that parents have is that their children are under the twin pressures to grow up too quickly and to become consumers or sexualised adults earlier than is appropriate. These pressures on children today are greater than they were for previous generations. They reach children through all forms of popular culture, including television, film, magazines, newspapers, music and the internet. Children and young people encounter them in their homes, when they go shopping or out with friends and family, and on their mobile phones and games consoles.

This Government shares the concerns of parents about these pressures. On 6 December 2010, the Government asked Mr Reg Bailey, Chief Executive of the Mothers’ Union, to carry out an independent review of the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood. His review is the first step in fulfilling the commitment we made to take action to protect children from excessive commercialisation and premature sexualisation.

I am now pleased to announce that Mr Bailey’s review, Letting Children Be Children, is being published today. Copies will be placed in the House Libraries.

Mr Bailey has made a full and comprehensive report and fulfilled the remit he was given. He has built on the important work of other reviewers in this area, notably those of Professor David Buckingham and colleagues, and others by Professor Tanya Byron and Dr Linda Papadopoulos, and drawn on a review of more recent literature on the topic carried out by Dr Ann Phoenix of the Childhood Wellbeing Research Centre.

Mr Bailey has been particularly interested in hearing the views of the people most affected by the unwarranted pressures to grow up too quickly: parents and children. The review commissioned face-to-face surveys of the views of parents and children and qualitative research with parents, undertook a call for evidence from parents, and drew on the results of a survey of children and young people carried out by the Children and Young People’s Advisory Board of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

In the course of his review, Mr Bailey met representatives from retailing, advertising, marketing, broadcasting and internet service providers, their trade associations and their regulators. The call for evidence from industry and wider stakeholders drew 120 responses from businesses, trade associations and voluntary organisations. Mr Bailey also met experts in child protection, parenting champions and a range of academic and other experts in this field.

The voices of parents and children come through strongly in the four key themes identified in his report. Children and young people today are surrounded by sexualised imagery that has become an all-pervasive, ever-present backdrop to their lives, whether on television, the internet, in shops or public spaces. Parents find that goods and services for children in reputable high street shops are sometimes overly-sexualised or needlessly gendered. Businesses in the children’s market too often treat children only as consumers and not as children. Parents find it hard to voice their concerns or make a complaint and fear they will not be listened to if they do.

Mr Bailey has listened to the concerns of parents and takes them seriously. He understands that they want to set the standards and values their children live by and that they want support from businesses and others in doing this. He believes that their views have a special status as they speak for children, not just for themselves.

That is why, in making his recommendations, Mr Bailey is seeking ways to make businesses and regulators more responsive to the views of parents and to give parents more direct influence on how the decisions affecting children are made. Mr Bailey’s view is that some businesses and regulators behave in exemplary fashion in their dealings with parents and children, but that those that do not need to step up and be as good as the best. Businesses of all kinds need to encourage feedback from parents and, where necessary, take heed of their complaints. Nor is it enough for businesses simply to comply with the relevant regulatory systems for their industry which were established to protect children: parents expect them to do their best for children, not simply stick to the rules. Where regulation is less prescriptive, businesses should play fair and not take advantage of children. And regulators, too, need to connect with parents and take more recognition of their views on what is appropriate for their children.

The Government welcomes Mr Bailey’s analysis and the thrust of all the recommendations he has made. We note that the majority of the recommendations are directed at industry and the regulators and we look to them to see that these recommendations are implemented as fully as possible, whilst remaining open to industry and regulators devising alternative or additional approaches to delivering the outcomes that the recommendations are aimed at achieving.

Two recommendations are directed to Government itself. Mr Bailey has recommended that the Government should consider strengthening the controls on music videos. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport will respond to this recommendation by consulting on the operation of the Video Recordings Act 1984 and 2010. The consultation will look at a range of options including consideration of whether it would be appropriate for the exemption that music videos enjoy from this legislation to be removed, and call for evidence in support of the costs and benefits of such a change.

This Government is committed to rolling back unnecessary regulation, but we will regulate where necessary, and in particular to protect children. By placing the responsibility for action on businesses themselves and, if necessary, their regulators, we believe that businesses will have the best opportunity and incentive to adopt policies and practices as proposed by Mr Bailey in ways which are efficient and indeed could provide new opportunities through connecting strongly with parents and children.

We will, as Mr Bailey recommends, take stock of progress in 18 months’ time and consider what further measures may need to be taken to achieve the recommended outcomes.

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Published 7 June 2011