Is there a sector of consumer magazine publishing that is more maligned than the one catering for teenage girls? Rarely a month goes by without some politician, ill-informed commentator or all-round busybody deciding that they are entirely responsible for the appalling behaviour of the youth of today in general, and in particular the country’s unacceptable levels of teenage pregnancies. Already this year, the sexual offences bill has threatened to prevent them running advice columns on the grounds that they “incite unlawful sexual activity”.
This week it’s the turn of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, calling for regulations that would require magazines to have age restrictions stamped on their covers, making it illegal to sell them to younger readers.
Apart from the practical unfeasibility of the proposition, the teachers also ignore the fact that teen magazines are already the most tightly regulated in the country. The content of each one is monitored by the independent Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel, which has powers to respond proactively if any of them overstep its guidelines – approved by the Home Office – on coverage of sex issues. That means being responsible in the information they provide and not encouraging underage sex in the tone of their coverage.
More importantly, they ignore the vitally important role these magazines play in educating a generation of teens who may dress and act like there’s nothing they don’t know, but who are generally every bit as ignorant and anxious about sex as their parents were.
Rather than trying to silence the one responsible source of information available to teenagers, the teaching profession would be better off taking a closer look at shortcomings in its own approach that fails to adequately help its pupils combat the worst rates of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy in Europe.