The parents of Rehtaeh Parsons were shocked to discover Tuesday the Halifax teen’s photograph was posted on a Facebook promotion for a European dating service.
Rehtaeh, 17, committed suicide in April. She had been taunted and tortured on social media after allegedly being raped by a number of boys at a local party.
The Rehtaeh Parsons case has helped crystallize the problem of online bullying in this country. But it — and the subsequent Facebook incident — highlight an equally troubling phenomenon in our society: the sexualization of youth.
Rehtaeh was not particularly provocative or promiscuous, but kids today live in a world where sexual curiosity at a young age is implicitly and explicitly endorsed around every turn.
Girls feel pressured to act seductively, and boys naturally feel at liberty to follow through. The result is inappropriate taunting, groping and even sex. Teens are too immature to cope with the emotional outfall, and social media throws gas on the flames.
Dress codes in schools offer a good indication of what administrators deal with. At Lake Academy in Fortune, clothing must “cover the entire torso and legs to the mid-thigh. Tank tops, halters, tube tops, bra tops, lace-up tops, undershirts, spaghetti straps, midriff tops, Spandex shorts and bathing suits are not permitted.”
Too often, it’s not the child the school has to confront, but parents who see no problem sending their youngsters to school looking like punks and streetwalkers.
France, a country that’s more open to regulating social norms, has decided to take action against child sexualization in the early stages. This week the French senate voted to ban child beauty pageants.
Nothing is more disturbing than the image of small girls dressed to look like high fashion models. Nothing, that is, except the abusive sparring among their parents.
While few studies have been done, most indicators suggest pint-sized pageant queens are more likely to end up with image problems later on.
“For the girls who do develop image obsessions, it appears that the hypercritical environment of their youth produces a drive towards the unattainable goal of physical perfection,” wrote dietitian Martina Cartwright in Psychology Today in 2011.
It doesn’t help that glossy magazines seem increasingly willing to portray teen celebrities in sultry attire.
The French move came on the heels of a report by former cabinet minister Chantal Jouanno.
“Let us not make our girls believe from a very young age that their worth is only judged by their appearance," she told senators.
According to The Associated Press, the proposal is “aimed at protecting children from danger and being prematurely forced into roles of seduction that harm their development.” It must still be approved by the National Assembly.
Some may feel the state shouldn’t play nanny with parental rights.
But with such strong potential for misery and abuse in later years, more jurisdictions may be tempted to follow the French model.