A pile of pants

Text message bullies and 'sexy' knickers for 10-year-olds: another week's catalogue of the perils of being young.

Ray Crowley

Topics Politics

Another week, another catalogue of the perils of being young.

Having a mobile phone or internet access when you are under 20 seems to increase the probability that you will get messed up. Nintenditis, paedophiles in chatrooms, getting mugged, becoming a mugger, cancer, text-message injury, and now: ‘One in every four teenagers has been a victim of bullying via a computer or mobile phone’ (1).

These findings are from a survey commissioned by the children’s charity NCH. John Carr, associate director of NCH’s children technology unit, warns: ‘Online bullying is a modern menace which needs to be addressed’ (2).

The survey also reveals that nearly a third of those who had been bullied via text messages didn’t tell anyone, and those who did were most likely to confide in their friends. Rather than indicating that many young phone uses are ‘suffering in silence’, as Carr indicates, doesn’t this suggest that the majority of those polled were unconcerned by anonymous text-message taunts? Presumably reading ‘I know what colour cover your Nokia is wearing’ on your mobile is less upsetting than getting beaten up in the street.

And how should we be addressing this modern menace? Well, you shouldn’t put up with it and should always tell someone. You should use discretion when giving out you mobile number or email address. If you are being bullied, you should keep a log of the dates and times and report the incident to your phone company and the police. Sound familiar? That’s because it is the same advice given out in the front of every telephone directory.

People do know what to do when they receive malicious phone calls. Even young people – because they remember to key in 141 before making a prank call. Lisa and Bart Simpson have been making bullying phone calls in the popular cartoon since the first episode – ‘I’d like to speak to Seymour please…Seymour butts’. Is this menace really that modern – or that menacing?

Not as menacing, apparently, as the 10-year-old screaming at Mummy to buy her a padded bra and g-string. The catalogue store chain Argos has released a new range of underwear aimed at 9-to 16-year olds, which includes such so-called ‘sexy’ items.

Shock horror! Sexy underwear for little kids! Except that nothing is sexy on a 10-year-old, is it, unless you yourself are a bit strange. Young girls trying on their mothers’ bras don’t suddenly become sexualised. Stressing over what kind of pants children are wearing is ridiculous – haven’t we got more important matters to debate than big gym knickers v white minis v thongs?

You can also buy green Shrek ears and Princess costumes for 10-year-olds. Does this mean that children are becoming too fairytale-ised? I haven’t read any thong-related stories that suggest banning the new underwear range. Most of the coverage is a parental sigh: how will I tell my daughter (or son) that they can’t have them? ‘I am not going to let my 10-year-old buy any’, asserts Maureen Freely in The Times (London). ‘And I will smile warmly through all the tantrums and I will win.’ (3)

Most of these yoof panics are either exaggerated fears that mean nothing to the kids being worried over, or, instead of being posed as problems to which a solution is suggested, they are just chewed over with a survey or statistics shoved in to add crunchy numbers to the mastication.

Even when statistics show that a particular epidemic of teenageness has ebbed we are not satisfied. I read this week that levels of mental arithmetic among school-aged children have increased considerably. Brilliant! Gone are the concerns that calculators and computers are dulling the minds of kids. No – terrible! The replacement fear is that children may grow up confused as to when to use a calculator in later life.

It seems like a losing battle. So let’s stop obsessing. Even the panic about the panic about teenagers is fast becoming boring.

Read on:

Spot checks, by Ray Crowley

Texting your way to TMI, by Ray Crowley

(1) ‘One in four teens’ is victim of text message bullying, Guardian 15 April 2002

(2) ‘One in four teens’ is victim of text message bullying, Guardian 15 April 2002

(3) ‘Bringing up teens is soooh unfair’, The Times, 16 April 2002

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Topics Politics


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