Young people hard-wired to please adults

Youth Off The Streets

We cannot complain that the Government is seeking to protect children. But surely the best way forward is to put child protection in a wider context that points to positive-thinking solutions beyond censorship.

Salesian Fr Chris Reilly of Youth Off The Streets provides that in his recent submission to Justice Wood, who is presiding over the Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services in NSW.

Reilly has spent the last 34 years working with marginalised, disadvantaged and abused young people. He believes the root cause of the problem is that adults are disconnecting from young people.

He reflects on the practice of Native American communities, where every adult takes responsibility for every child. Their guiding principle is that 'it takes a village to raise a child'.

The implication is that our global village has not accepted this responsibility. Instead it looks upon children as material for commercial and sexual exploitation. It seems young people are vulnerable to this, but they are also open to positive influence from adults who take the trouble to connect with them. In other words, careful nurturing will yield results.

Fr Reilly says: 'It is not the reality that young people are disconnecting from us. I believe young people are 'hard-wired' to please adults.'

The logic is that they will do what adults want them to do. He refers to young people's fashions that mimic adult attire, 'even to the point where three-year-olds can now get padded bras to wear'. Such early sexualisation creates a climate that is conducive to sex abuse.

Fr Reilly is particularly critical of alcohol companies that target minors with their marketing campaigns. He says governments must 'acknowledge the damage alcohol and its marketing does to young people and the part it plays in physical and sexual violence'.

If govenments do not acknowledge this, there is little chance the wider community, and indeed advertisers, will accept that such exploitation of minors is abhorrent.

The Federal Govenment has chosen to make blocking undesirable internet the focus of its Clean Feed initiative. But it seems 'Clean Feed' could more profitably embrace the funding of fresh content that is 'clean', and likely to perform an active nurturing role.

Michael MullinsMichael Mullins is editor of Eureka Street.




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Existing comments

I find your editorial exceptionally stimulating. Might ask you if 'Common Theology' can have a story now and then. Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is already good enough to give us a handout of his stuff.

Maggie Helass | 04 February 2008  

Good info. Like Chris Reilly's approach - only hope his reflections are taken on board by the policy makers.

Mary Jackson | 04 February 2008  

Thank you for this article, Michael, as also easy access to Chris Reilly's Submission. I agree fully with the point made that many young people are not disconnecting, from adults; after nine years out of Australia and approximately one year back in the country I find many young people only too willing to connect, in fact actively seeking to make connections.
The two articles per day is working well for me. Thanks for this change.

Maryrose Dennehy | 04 February 2008  

Thank you Michael Mullins for your timely article on the disconnection of adult Australian society from our children. I believe the big trouble is commercial exploitation coupled with the feeling of disempowerment of many parents - damned if they take charge and damned if they don't. One trouble is that traditional parenting practices are often inadequate to deal with the huge changes in society.

Christine Wood | 06 February 2008  

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