A speaker at a childhood conference in Sydney has accused the advertising industry of using the same tricks as sexual predators to sell products to children.
Speaking at the Right 2 Childhood conference, social researcher Maggie Hamilton says there is growing evidence that modern media and advertising is having negative mental health impacts on children as young as three.
She says medical professionals, parents and teachers are all reporting an increase in problems in young children.
“We’re seeing a new level of sexual assault happening in primary schools,” she said.
“We’re also seeing sexting happening from little girls [aged] eight up, who are taking photos of themselves topless and sending them around to little boys age eight or putting them on the net.
“We are seeing identification with a very sexualised kind of persona.”
Ms Hamilton says her research indicates modern advertising is becoming increasingly exploitative, especially towards children.
“I have done a paper recently which looks at how the corporations do market products, whether it is clothing or cosmetics or whatever – toys – to kids, and interestingly they use exactly the same tools as sexual predators do to groom children,” she said.
“They actively try to separate kids from parents and the kind of languaging, ‘we’re cool, you’re parents are kind of idiots’.
“They offer gifts, they pretend friendship, etcetera, and most importantly they raunch up the material over a period of time.
“With a sexual predator that means then a child is willing to start to do whatever, and with a corporation it means the children don’t resist spending.”
Another speaker at the conference, writer and social researcher Melinda Tankard Reist, says she is sickened by deliberate marketing – often with sexual undertones – to children as young as six months.
“They are very callous. I mean this is one of the reasons we use the term corporate paedophilia, because corporations are in a sense abusing children,” she said.
“They are driving childhood out of children and we see this as a systemic assault on childhood.”
Ms Reist says parents must take a stand against advertisers selling to their children.
“Parents need to be vigilant, they need to not buy into the culture,” she said.
Ms Hamilton say not only do parents need to keep watch, but the Government also needs to act.
“I never thought I would say this, but we do need far more regulation,” she said.
“One of the problems with the advertising standards board is that it is an industry-regulated body and I think that is inherently flawed.”
But Advertising Standards Bureau chief executive Fiona Jolley disagrees.
She says the current system of self regulation is working.
“The advertising self-regulation system provides more effective outcomes than any legislated scheme in Australia could,” she said.
“We have compliance with board decisions across the board by advertisers.
“We do research regularly to make sure the decisions of the board broadly meet the community standards.”