Thursday, July 08, 2004

IVF for 14 year olds?

Here's a rather disturbing sign of the times from England:

British girls as young as 14 are seeking treatment for infertility because they have been unable to become pregnant after up to two years of sexual activity without contraception.

In one clinic in Swindon, west of London, four girls aged 14 were so desperate to have babies that they asked whether they could receive treatments such as in-vitro fertilisation.

The requests, all in the past year, were made to Dr Jo Heaton, a fertility specialist who runs a sexual health clinic for under-19s in the town." (The Age 5/7/04)

In some ways we shouldn't be surprised at such news. Children these days know pretty much everything there is to know about matters sexual; there is no longer much of an attempt to preserve a period of "childhood innocence" (which psychologists, as I understand it, call a "latency period").

Patricia Edgar, a founding director of the Australian Children's Television Foundation, even thinks that children are being overly protected. She believes that the current system, of giving programmes ratings, is too strict.

She complains that the "censor" (ie the ratings tribunal) too much reflects the views of "white picket fence" families; that children's programmes should be unpredictable and controversial and deal with challenging issues; that children's television is too influenced by "the moralists and the nostalgics who believe the world portrayed should be peopled with the very good"; and that programmes should not speak to children in a "moralising" way.

I think that Patricia Edgar is trying to push adult sensibilities onto children here. Children, in fact, often enjoy watching programmes which portray a warm and secure family life. Nor do children need to watch "confrontational issues" in order to stay interested in TV shows.

Patricia Edgar is leading the debate in the wrong direction. Children are currently being deprived of a "latency period" in which they can take the necessary developmental steps from childhood to adulthood. We need to find ways to protect children from too early an exposure to adult concepts, including adult sexuality. Otherwise we can't be too surprised when young girls act precociously and complain of infertility at the tender age of 14.

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