IT'S an age-old problem: kids growing up too fast.
And these days, celebrity brats, tween magazine covers and children's fashion boutiques only exacerbate the problem.
University of the Sunshine Coast lecturer in psychology Rachael Sharman said that when it came to "kids growing up too quickly", the issue most people were concerned about was the sexualisation of children.
Dr Sharman said that children were taking much of their behaviour from role models such as celebrities.
"In particular, video clips are more revealing than before and you see little girls running around wearing clothing trying to emulate what they see on TV," Dr Sharman said.
Research shows images of children and teenagers in video clips, magazine photo shoots and on television are impacting on self-development and self-identity, and leading to an unrealistic view of what is acceptable sexual behaviour for youngsters.
University of the Sunshine Coast associate professor in education Michael Nagel said that while previous generations had been worried about the sexual exploitation of children, exposure to imagery via today's 24/7 stream of technology portraying young people in a negative way was even more concerning.
"Research suggests that continued exposure to sexualised images appear to influence young people's views on what is acceptable sexual behaviour, risk taking and transient sexual encounters," Dr Nagel said.
Dr Nagel said that imagery in video clips sent a strong message about relationships.
"A lot of the videos tend to stereotype males and females in unhealthy ways," he said.
Dr Nagel said many video clips showed females as being sexually available and reinforced particular values about gendered stereotypes.
He said society was overly sexualising our children and creating situations where they acted like adults earlier than generally acceptable.
The result, he said, could be that young people participated in the types of relationships engaged by adults, and beyond their maturity levels.
Dr Sharman said young people may end up in situations they were unable to cope with and might engage more freely in risk-taking behaviours undertaken by adults, such as drinking.
"We know that children who mature early engage in adult behaviours that they are not cognitively able to deal with," Dr Sharman said.
"We do not want children to be engaging in behaviours, particularly sexual behaviours, quicker than they can cope with the consequences."
Dr Sharman said parents and children needed to keep lines of communication open.
"If children feel they can talk to their parents, they are much less likely to be influenced," she said.
Dr Nagel said the way the media expressed the ideal body image was creating issues in girls.
"Girls as young as six want to be thinner," he said.
He also said that until now, plastic surgery was something adults undertook, but research from the US showed that teenagers were having liposuction, Botox injections and cosmetic surgery including breast implants in alarming numbers.
Between 2002 and 2003, the US observed a three-fold increase in the number of teenagers under 18 having breast enhancement surgery.
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