What’s Happening to our Boys and Girls? Guest post from Maggie Hamilton part 2

Writer, publisher and social researcher Maggie Hamilton gives frequent talks and lectures, is a regular media commentator and keen observer of social trends. She has held a number of senior roles in publishing and at the ABC. Her many books include What Men Don’t Talk About, which examines the lives of real men and boys as opposed to the stereotypes, and What’s Happening To Our Girls? and now What’s Happening To Our Boys? which look at the 21st century challenges of our girls and boys are facing, and the solutions.

Maggie has kindly allowed us to post this talk she gave from the recent Happpiness conference. Due to its size, we posted part 1 yesterday and this is part 2. We hope that you will find it of interest in regards to your roles as educators of children and young adults.

One of the key tools marketers use to attract our children is the deliberate and calculated use of s*xual content. The fallout from the countless edgy s*xual images seen in ads, on TV screens, posters and billboards, in MTV clips, movies, video games and sitcoms, on clothing and accessories, and on internet is real and impacting our young. Daily this hyper-s*xualised imagery and s*xual expression lowers their inhibitions, discourages empathy towards others, and reshapes their s*xual aspirations and expression often in risky, violent or unhelpful ways.

This climate is harmful to girls on many levels, and needs attention. Rarely do we consider the impact growing up in a hyper-s*xualised world has on young boys trying to come to terms with their emerging sexuality. We need to be more aware of what it’s like for young boys to be surrounded by aggressive, over s*xualized images, messages and lyrics. This is not something we talk about, yet this is a very real concern of the many parents I meet. Little or no mention is given in raunch culture to real choices, intimacy and kindness, let alone the many nuances of desire. Instead the highly s*xualized landscape our kids inhabit constantly suggests they should be ready and willing to have s*x at all times if they want to belong.

The continual marketing of ‘perfect’ bodies to showcase new products to our kids is also biting. Now body issues are impacting the lives of increasingly younger girls, some of whom are only just at school. In one study of girls aged 5 to 8, over a quarter of five-year-old-girls wished they were thinner. This figure rose to 71 per cent for girls aged seven. Most of these young girls believed they had to be slim to be popular. Just under half wanted to be thinner than they were, and were prepared to diet if they put on weight.[i] The issue of weight has now permeated almost every area of a girl’s life. And with the increasing marketing of products to boys in the last two or three years, especially of fashion and toiletry items, is now impacting their body image as well. A day at the beach is no longer just about having fun in the sun, it’s about having to look amazing. To reach their desired weight girls, and now boys, are resorting to crazy exercise regimes, crash diets, laxatives and anything else that will help get the weight off. And with magazines filled with diets, and tips and tricks as to how to get this summer’s perfect look, who can blame them?

The drinking scene is also of concern. Not only are girls drinking earlier and more than their mothers and grandmothers, they’re drinking to harmful levels, and more so than boys.[ii] Binge drinking has become the in thing. When you talk with medical staff, a far darker picture emerges. They’re concerned about the numbers of intoxicated girls admitted to emergency units. Girls, some as young as twelve, are so drunk they can’t maintain their own airway. These girls are very vulnerable to rape. Many have been out all night, and often their parents aren’t even aware they weren’t at home. Whereas previous generations tended to drink wine and beer, thanks to breezers and their very effective marketing campaigns, teen boys and girls are getting the taste for spirits. Heavy drinking at the weekend is increasingly the norm, leading to an increase in fights, accidents and worse.

Perhaps one of our biggest challenges, however, is how to deal with our children’s growing access to p*rn. Scratch the surface and you see just how many children and teens are viewing this material. It’s crucial parents realise a child doesn’t have to be at home to download p*rn. They can do so on their mobile, on a bus or train at a less than vigilant internet café, or at a friend’s place. This isn’t just an activity high school kids are into. Increasingly primary school children are accessing p*rn, and boys are now watching this material together. P*rn gives them a new language, a new way of relating, which does no-one any favours. Perhaps this issue is best summed up by British philosopher and academic Roger Scruton, ‘This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to p*rnography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of s*x run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.’[iii]

The capacity for kids to lead secret lives is perhaps greater now than at any other time. Now it’s not only adults who are behaving as predators on and offline. With the new technologies, and increased access to adult content, we now have kids grooming others for s*x. And as teens have their own secret language, can assume hidden identities and enjoy covert friendships, increasingly parents are being marginalised. That’s why, it’s vital they get up to speed with the furtive aspects of teen life. They also need to be aware of where their children retreat to for solace when they’re feeling sad or lonely, and the likely consequences of this new level of isolation many boys and girls are experiencing.

Some of this material is shocking, but this is the toxic atmosphere many of our boys and girls encounter daily. It’s vital we don’t shrink from what lies before us, but take note, then act. Not all girls and boys are into risky behaviours, but as they’re growing up in a performance culture, most are aware in great and graphic detail of what their peers are up to, which only serves to further normalise harmful behaviour. In many ways our children are struggling. Yet against these many challenges are wonderful opportunities for them to learn strength and resilience, to connect to their families and communities in new and empowering ways. When we understand what they’re up against, we can help bring about the much-needed change, and better support and nurture our children in meaningful ways, so their lives can be richer and fuller than our own, and so they can find solutions to issues we can but dream of.

Watch a video clip of Maggie Hamilton talking about her book, What’s Happening to Our Boys here.

[i] Sarah Womack, ‘Now Girls As Young As This Five Year Old Think They Have To Be Slim To Be Popular’ , The Telegraph, 8 March 2005,


[ii] Michael Carr-Gregg, The Princess Bitchface Syndrome, Penguin, Melbourne, 2006.

[iii] Professor Roger Scruton, Profit As A By-Product Versus Profit As A Goal, Rethinking Business Management Witherspoon Institute Conference, Princeton University, 17-19 May 2007.

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