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6 February 1996

Are Teen Magazines Obscene?

The Periodical (Protection of Children) Bill introduced by Peter Luff MP (Con:Worcester) is insulting and patronising to parents and young people.

Luff is concerned about the sexually explicit content of magazines such as Just 17 and Sugar. His Bill would require publishers to print the recommended minimum readership age on the front of teenage magazines.

Luff should understand the following:
  1. Teenage magazines, like the rest of the media, do not dictate young people's behaviour pattern; they reflect it. They write about sex because that is what young people are interested in. If they did not address the concerns of young people in the language they want to read, the magazines would not sell.

  2. Luff says he wants to protect young people's innocence - in fact he wants to keep them in ignorance. A third of young people aged 16 and under claim to have had full sexual intercourse. Most young people claim to get most of their information about sex and contraception from magazines, preferring to pick up the facts in this way than via moralistic lectures from teachers and parents.
  3. Luff does not seem to realise that the magazines he condemns have a very moral message of their own. Their pages are about the only place you will see references to the importance of the age of consent - it is routinely included in any article which talks about sex. What is more, the message to young people unsure about whether to have sex is always - don't do it; if you are unsure, you are not ready. An old-fashioned message delivered in youth-speak.

  4. But most importantly, what Luff misses is that his very attempt to promote parental responsibility undermines it. Luff wants minimum readership ages on magazines so that parents can check their daughters' magazines are suitable. But parents don't need government certification to tell them that. They can look between the covers and find out. By suggesting that a regulatory body decides what is and is not suitable for a teenager to read, Luff undermines parents' role in deciding.
Supporters of Luff's Bill complain that young people 'grow up too quickly' today. The opposite is the truth. Luff's Bill is typical of an age in which everybody is being treated like infants. Fourteen year old girls who (understandably) want to find out more about boys are to be wrapped in cotton wool like little babies. And parents who are quite capable of controlling their daughters reading matter are to be treated like incapable and irresponsible children themselves.

The irony is that, the more the state tries to intervene in matters like this in the name of upholding 'family values', the more the role of parents is undermined.

Ann Bradley
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