A friend’s daughter recently started at a highly regarded boarding school. When her mother asked how she was enjoying the mixed-sex environment, the girl said quietly: “You have to give the boys oral sex or they get cross.” Reeling with shock, the mum protested that her darling daughter did not have to do anything of the sort. “Oh yes you do,” replied the girl. “And you have to shave down there or the boys don’t like it.”
The girl in question is not some brazen, street-smart sixth-former; she is 14 years old. With a woman’s body, perhaps, but still a child. A child who, as far as her parents were concerned, was leading a sheltered middle-class life, not auditioning to become a professional footballer’s WAG. Teenagers have always had secrets, places where they go to try on their new selves, be it the pages of a padlocked diary or the back row of the movies. But mine is the first generation of parents that has to protect its young not just in the world we can see and hear, but in a parallel, online universe for which we barely know the password. And it’s really tough. Tougher even than we know.
Only last week, we heard the awful story of Chevonea Kendall-Bryan, who fell to her death after pleading with a boy on the pavement below to erase the recording of her performing a sex act on him. “How much can I handle? HONESTLY. I beg you, delete that,” texted Chevonea. She was 13. Thirty years ago, keeping your kids safe was a doddle. The nearest your average boy got to pornography was a contraband Playboy, which looks as quaint and charming as The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady next to websites such as YouPorn. Those of us who squiggled I LOVE STEVE on the back of our hands in biro in 1975 will struggle to comprehend that girls are now encouraged to write a boy’s name on their naked breast, take a picture of it and text it to their inamorato. “Not my daughter!” I hear you cry. Really, are you quite sure about that?
According to Perry, half of all teenagers regularly see pornography and a third of children have received a sexually explicit text or email. If your dear son is consulting YouPorn on his mobile, then, believe me, he will have some pretty strange ideas about the act of physical lovemaking. I spent three minutes looking at YouPorn yesterday and I felt like I needed at least three years in a darkened room listening to the B minor Mass to reconstitute my soul. What the hell would this writhing abyss look like to a 14-year-old who has never seen a penis?
In his timely new book, Raising Girls, [Steve] Biddulph says that about five years ago (around the time that sexting and camera-phones were taking off) psychologists began to notice a marked and sudden plunge in girls’ mental health. The average teenage female was “stressed and depressed in a way never seen before”. Girls were growing up too fast, much faster than their mothers had. Our 18 is their 14, our 14 is their 10.
Mainstream media has made porn-inspired sex seem compulsory for girls at ever younger ages. “So what?” says the liberal parent who doesn’t think it’s cool to challenge their child’s lifestyle choices, and may secretly envy them. Biddulph has harsh words for these hands-off mummies and daddies: “Having your daughter as a friend – so much easier than actually raising her,” he mocks.
Read the whole thing. I’m very glad we homeschool, and our kids aren’t exposed to the worst of this, but I’m under no illusions that we don’t have a difficult job ahead of us in terms of building in resistance to porn in our children’s character. Still, as I said the other day, I worry about marriage prospects for my children among a generation of their peers who will have been stunted and deformed by pornography habits.