MPs: call for age stamp on teen mags is 'irresponsible'

Teen mags play ‘a vital role’ in sex education

Teen magazines have won the backing of MPs after headteachers called for tighter age restrictions.

Demands for an age stamp to be placed on teen magazines were led by deputy headteacher Ralph Surman at the annual conference of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.

Surman told delegates he had confiscated magazines from pupils due to his concerns over explicit content. Delegates backed a motion calling for tighter age restrictions and urged parents to take a greater interest in what their teenagers were reading.

However, MPs and the Periodical Publishers Association defended the magazines, branding the calls for an age stamp “irresponsible”.

Tim Loughton, MP, joined forces with Eleanor Laing, MP, Shadow minister for children, and Charles Hendry, Conservative deputy chairman responsible for youth affairs, to issue a statement of support. They argued that “for many teenagers, magazines are the only source of accurate and responsible information available to them”.

The MPs also supported the current regulatory board, the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel (TMAP), which comprises two doctors, a professor of psychology and a civil law barrister. TMAP monitors teenage magazines every month and has the power to adjudicate on content.

The MPs said the panel provided an “effective and appropriate” level of regulation and warned it would be “inappropriate to introduce any additional regulation through age stamping, which could ultimately be an enticement to much younger readers”.

Clare Hoban, head of the PPA’s legal and public affairs, said the teachers union should be “focusing on the lack of open discussion at home and at school that results in the UK having the worse rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy in Europe, rather than attempting to mute one of the only responsible sources of information available to young people.” She claimed there was no other part of the print media that was regulated as tightly.

She reiterated that teen mags played “a vital role” in preventing misinformation and ignorance about sex. “Parents should be involved in what their child is reading and use the material in teen magazines as a source for open discussion in the home,” she said.

Hoban claimed the restrictions would result in “absurdity” as teenagers would still be able to buy magazines aimed at adults and tabloid newspapers or access the internet, which exposed them to “a wealth of unregulated irresponsible and misogynist sexual material at the click of a button”.

She added that if an age stamp was introduced, magazines would need new age stamps every issue because the content differed every month.

Dr Fleur Fisher, chairman of TMAP, drew attention to the differences between the UK and the Netherlands, which, she said, had a “healthy holistic approach to sex” and teenage pregnancy rates that were a seventh of the teenage pregnancy rates in the UK.

By Ruth Addicott

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