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05 April 2012
In the debate about children and young people in an increasingly sexual culture, one voice has been overlooked – that of children and young people themselves.
A Cardiff University and Welsh Government initiative aimed to find out exactly what young people think of the sexualised products, media and imagery that surround them and in the context of their views on sex and sexuality education more widely.
This one-day conference allowed young people to talk alongside policy-makers, academics and teachers about issues including sexualised media, sexual texting and school-based sexual harassment.
The young people’s views will feed back to the Welsh Government’s cross-party group on ‘Childhood, Sexuality, Sexualisation and Equalities’. The group aims to influence policy in a number of fields, including personal and social education and the training of people working with children and young people.
The conference was jointly hosted by Dr Emma Renold, of the University’s School of Social Sciences and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Keith Towler. Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services, also addressed the conference. Events included presentations and workshops on young people and sexualised media, what can’t be spoken about in sex and relationship lessons, teacher anxieties in delivering sex education lessons and a drama about heteronormativity and homophobia.
Dr Renold has been researching children and young people’s sexual relationships and cultures for over 10 years. She said: "We read and hear a lot about how children are under attack from a highly sexualised culture – whether in advertising, clothes or music videos. But we never get to hear what children and young people think about these influences or what their views are more generally about the sexuality education they receive. It is an area fraught with adult anxiety which can lead to a culture of ignorance that can be damaging and dangerous for children and young people.
"Through this conference, young people got the chance to discuss these issues openly in a way they struggled to in school. We found out a lot about how young people want to have more say about the content of the sex and relationship education curriculum, what they wanted to change and what they thought was left out."
At the end of the day young people wrote down what they enjoyed about the day. This included a wishlist of "what I want to see change’ on a postcard to Keith Towler. Comments included:
"I liked how all the adults really listened to us young people because I know that usually grown-ups can ignore what we have to say."
"I enjoyed speaking frankly about topics and I’ve learnt that there are people to speak to"
"We need specialists to come into schools to teach PSE."
"I enjoyed the workshops because it gave me a chance to be open and to share my opinions without judgement."
"It was good to speak freely about our views."
Dr Renold added: "One of the aims was to bridge the gap between what adults think they know about childhood and sexuality, and how children and young people actually experience these issues. For example, we know many teachers feel anxious and are often at a loss about how to deal with sexting and the routine sexual objectification and violence experienced by girls from their peers. There has been very little training in all these issues. It is very encouraging and forward thinking that the Welsh Assembly sees sex and sexuality as an equalities and rights issue, and is taking a lead in shifting to a culture in which sex and sexuality can be discussed openly and inter-generationally."
Gwenda Thomas, Deputy Minister for Social Services and Children, said: "Children and young people have important things to say and they should take opportunities to voice their thoughts and feelings - it is the responsibility of adults to listen and act when appropriate. We have come a long way since the days of children being 'seen and not heard' and the Welsh Government takes the view that children are full citizens with rights and entitlements.
"We recognise the world is a more overtly sexualised place and are attempting to tackle any issues head on. Understanding the physical and emotional aspects of sexual relations is critical for young people to move with confidence through adolescence into adulthood. Effective communication is vital to this."
Keith Towler, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said: "We know that this is an area of concern for parents and politicians, but we know less about young people’s perceptions of the issue. I am pleased that here in Wales, with this conference, we’re leading the way again by providing a national platform for young views to be heard. It enables parents, politicians and young people to help each other to explore what needs to happen to protect childhood"
The conference involved over 50 young people from secondary schools across South Wales. The cross-party group aim to seek the views of more children and young people across Wales over the coming year.
Notes to editor
Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK’s most research intensive universities. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University President Professor Sir Martin Evans.
Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University’s breadth of expertise in research and research-led teaching encompasses: the humanities; the natural, physical, health, life and social sciences; engineering and technology; preparation for a wide range of professions; and a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Three major new Research Institutes, offering radical new approaches to neurosciences and mental health, cancer stem cells and sustainable places were announced by the University in 2010. www.cardiff.ac.uk
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