I wasn’t particularly keen to write on this subject, but each time I try to put it aside, I get another little nudge telling me to get on with it.
So here we go: the ‘Thank you Miley Cyrus‘ post.
Back in the day, my sex education lessons to classes full of anxiously giggling eleven-year-olds usually began with something like this:
Did you know that when a caterpillar develops a chrysalis and begins changing into a butterfly, every part of its body goes into a complete meltdown, and from the resulting goo an entirely new creature is formed? Adolescence is a bit like that. You start off as children and emerge as young adults, but the process in between can be pretty messy and radical.
Nothing I could say, though, would prepare the kids for the massive and traumatic changes that hormones would be wreaking on their bodies over the next few years, or the social and emotional fallout this would create.
The thing is, no one – not even the most sorted, mature and contented adult – can take self-esteem as a given. Each of us is still racked, from time to time, with self-doubt, insecurities and a wavering self-image. Yes? And I’m pretty certain that everyone reading this can look back to their own adolescence and recall how exaggerated and extreme those doubts and horrors were, when sudden and dramatic changes were affecting their entire beings on a daily basis. You’d wake up in the morning to find your voice, your skin, your smell, your height and weight, your emotions and mood and, of course, intimate parts of your body had suddenly transformed you into something quite new and unfamiliar. How on earth were you supposed to go about developing self-esteem, when you didn’t know, from day to day, who you were?
The caterpillar/butterfly is able to make these changes within the privacy of the chrysalis. Our society doesn’t provide so much as a curtain for our developing young people to hide behind. All these changes take place as they are going about their daily lives, interacting constantly on social media and – for an unfortunate few – in the full glare of publicity.
This is where Miley Cyrus comes in, of course. How unimaginably ghastly for a talented and beautiful young girl to have to play out a fantasy life in front of millions on TV for years as she grows up and then to attempt to redraw herself as an adult in the same, unrelenting media glare. It would seem that caring and helpful mentors have been sadly missing from her life, replaced instead by greedy and self-serving individuals encouraging her to boost their profits by – well – doing what she’s been doing.
I think we needed to see this hideously exaggerated adolescent transition played out on our screens, in order to recognise how much help and support the rest of our young people need.
A week or two back, the British media were reporting a story that many young people are being blackmailed into sending pornographic images of themselves to paedophiles. They are, apparently, approached via social media by someone pretending to be an ideal potential friend of the required sex and age. They are then asked by the new ‘friend’ to send compromising photos or videos of themselves.
This they willingly do.
After that, of course, they are trapped. The blackmailer threatens to send the pictures to their family and friends unless they provide more. The suffering this causes to the kids in that already fragile, insecure and confused adolescent state can easily be imagined.
The point I want to pick up on is that so many of our young people will readily send such images of themselves to total strangers – because, I suppose, their lack of familiarity with their new, sexually aware selves, together with the blatant soft porn images surrounding them in the media, trick them into believing that only this will make them sufficiently attractive and desirable to a potential boyfriend or girlfriend.
Why did it take young Ms Cyrus’ public gyrations and disrobing to alert us to the warped message being fed to her generation? Surely it’s vital for all of us who live with, work with or otherwise care for young people, to help them to recognise and respect the fragile and incredible beauty of their bodies, and to lovingly guide them through the hazards and fears of puberty so that they can emerge from the process as adults with a relatively secure self-image and the confidence to seek out and attract partners who will recognise and admire their intrinsic uniqueness and value.
We should not be leaving them prey to those who would destroy and devour them greedily before they can emerge from the chrysalis transformation.