In 21st Century Uk Society, What Trends Are Emerging To Challenge Dominant Concepts Of ‘Childhood And Youth’?

There are many upcoming trends and new methods in various parts in the present UK society, examples such as body modification, changes in mode of education and daily use of technology. This research paper will assess the future of childhood and youth, by exploring on the newer trends in 21st century that challenges the older and dominant concepts of childhood. This research paper will be based on the trends in the UK. The key themes selected for this paper will be sexualisation and technology.

For this paper, this paper will adopt the definition of child and youth from the United Nations. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines child as an individual under the age of regardless of gender, origin, religion or possible disabilities, needs special care and protection because children are often the most vulnerable (The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990). The UN, for statistical consistency across regions, defines ‘youth’, as individuals between the ages of 15 and 24 years, without prejudice to other definitions by Member states (United Nations, 1981).

The American Psychological Association defines sexualisation as “the inappropriate imposition of sexuality upon a person, whether through objectification, overvaluing or emphasizing the person’s appearance and/or sexual behaviour, or some other means” (Grinnel, 2016).

In 21st century UK society, it is no surprise that children and youth are being sexualised. Children are not seen as a child anymore but rather they are perceived to be more as an adult which defeats the sole purpose of having a childhood.

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There has been a growing concern in society about the increasing invasion of sexual topics and traits which are present in a wide range of child experiences. Sexualisation in childhood represents a trend that is portrayed by a distortion of childhood socialization (Gunter, 2014).

Sexuality and sexual knowledge are important fundamentals in the modern western definition of childhood and adulthood, and in upholding the limitations between them (Buckingham, D, Bragg, S, Russell, R, Willett, R, 2011). The psychological development of children is supported by their inherited biological make-up and their learning experiences from their social life (Gunter, 2014). Furthermore, the rate at which physical and social development occurs varies, introducing sexualized themes into a child’s life too early can affect their cognitive development (Gunter, 2014).

Adultification is a term used to describe when a child behaves and dresses like a grown woman (Speno, 2017). Sexualisation is present everywhere in society. Ranging from photos to advertisements and movies, female children and youths especially are being sexualised and adultified. The sexualised images of young girls out in society suggests that female bodies are allowed to be objectified, regardless of the individual’s age (Cochrane, 2014). Holly Dustin, the director of End Violence Against Women Coalition (EVAW), commented that these sexualised images of female children are part of the culture in which child sexual abuse takes place (Cochrane, 2014)

Images of children which are taken without consent, are undoubtedly offensive, as it provides a cultural setting in which non-consensual images, and other non-consensual behaviour, are seen to be more acceptable (Cochrane, 2014). The news stories and images give the impression to society that young girls are merely props and sex objects even if adulthood is still years away (Cochrane, 2014). Such a view on sexualisation not only disregards the extent of young people’s actual relationship with media and technology in current Western societies but also the challenges the myths of childhood and sexuality they present (Attwood, 2011 as cited in Tsaliki, 2014). It also complicates the growing importance of the media in constructing sexual identities and lifestyles in the lives of the children and youth (Tsaliki, 2014). Even in music videos which are widely assessible, sex is being used to attract listeners where women are treated as decorative sexual objects whose primary purpose is the sexual titillation of men (Gunter, 2014). The images and lyrics in the video sends a message to the society to promote sexualized perceptions of women.

Sexualisation influences beauty standards that often create unrealistic or unattainable targets for children and teens that may cause health and mental issues such as body dysmorphia and anorexia. When the children are used to the life of living as adult because of the adultification by the society, the obsession with looks will lead to problems later such as body image dissatisfaction, wanting plastic surgery, eating disorders, low self-esteem and depression (Gohir, 2011). It is safe to say that the sexualisation of youth and children makes them more vulnerable to various physical and mental issues.

The impact of popular culture on the children and youth have always been a topic for debate (Tsaliki, 2014). Youth and children from other races and religions also face sexualisation due to their culture. An example will be young girls wearing a hijab. The wearing of hijab by young girls is not offensive but the reason behind the hijab wearing might be. The purpose of the hijab is to avoid unwanted male sexual attention which one way or another, proves that the child is being sexualised even though it might not be intentional (Gohir, 2011). When young girls are asked to wear a hijab, they are being objectified.

There are many cultures in the world where child marriage is considered acceptable. Even in the UK, many cultures do practice child marriage. Many community marriages are held in accordance with the religious laws of many south Asian, Turkish, Middle Eastern and north African cultures (Hill, 2004). Girls are forced to get married, raped, abused and are even not allowed to go school unless it diverts the attention of the law (Hill, 2004). From the start to the end of 2015, 174 children were aided by authorities after the forced marriages were reported, however it has shot up to 220 in 2016 (McFadyen, 2017). Parents who force their children into getting married justify their actions as building stronger relations and protecting cultural and religious traditions. Many cases of child marriages end up in suicide (Hill, 2004).

In pre-modern societies, children were more cohesive into adult social life, where they were allowed to build their skills by working (Jackson, 1982 as cited in Tsaliki, 2014). In this day and time, children and youth are participating in other activities. Research commissioned in advance of the parliament inquiry suggests that childhood is becoming increasingly sexualised (Williams, 2016). Moral panics are symptoms of more general anxieties provoked by the rapid pace of social changes, due to modernity (Tsaliki, 2014). There are many upcoming trends that are causing moral panic. One of the trend is called sexting, which is the sending of sexually explicit messages or images. Even, though it is known to be dangerous to be sending those kinds of sensitive material to another person, it has become a norm for the children and youth in the 21st century. Body modifications, spa for children and even beauty pageant is being catered for children with the parent’s permission. Children who behave like adults are more likely to engage in sexual activities at an earlier age which can lead to sexually transmitted diseases and/or teenage pregnancies (Gohir, 2011). Child pornography and child marriages are examples of adultification.


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In 21st Century Uk Society, What Trends Are Emerging To Challenge Dominant Concepts Of ‘Childhood And Youth’?. (2022, Apr 25). Retrieved from

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