The self-regulation of advertising, and other media industries, has failed to protect children from an onslaught of sexualized content, says the professional body for Australia's psychiatrists.
Professor Louise Newman pin points to billboard, TV advertising, magazines, music videos and even posters at department stores, and says that risqué images are now an inescapable part of a child's environment.
The generation of kids today is facing, the widespread use of sexual images to sell anything from margarine to fashion, said Prof Newman, president of The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists.
There is this pervasive dissemination of these images and material in the public space, it has become part of the popular culture, Prof Newman told the AAP on Wednesday.
He stated, ...I think what we're witnessing is a failure of self-regulation. We need to look at advertising, the degree of public exposure (and) places where children are and limit their direct access to those images. Prof Newman calls for a new regime of restrictions to protect kids from both targeted and inadvertent exposure to sexualized media content.
More Australian research is needed to assess the effect, she said, though the anecdotal proof is troubling. The exposure has appeared to influence typically teenage and adult concerns about body image, sexiness and of being a worthwhile individual well into a child's first years of life.
Prof Newman said that clinical services are seeing presentations where these are themes at younger and younger ages. We're seeing increasingly younger presentations of concerns about body image and eating problems. I've seen four-year-olds and pre-schoolers who want to diet...going on intermittent food refusal.
She says that the move made by a British retailer to sell a child's pole dancing kit or tween magazines that advices girls on how to be attractive to the opposite sex, are just blatant introduction of sexualized themes to children. In many cases, she said, it was inadvertent.
If you go intro a seven-eleven at child's eye view will be Ralph magazine next to cartoons. The child might be attracted to the cartoons but what they are bombarded with are all these really quite unusual women with breast implants.
It is sending a message that this is sexual attraction, this is what gets you on the front of a magazine.
Prof Newman says it is natural for children to be curious about their bodies and also about sex, but these matters should be talked about within the family, at a developmentally appropriate time.
The concern is that they don't need to know about adult sexual themes. Prof Newman will talk more about the issue in Sydney this Friday at the Australian Conference on Children and the Media.