Channel 4 faces fresh controversy over fly-on-the-wall film of pre-teen romance

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Laura-Anne Hanrahan is sitting on her doorstep, playing with a pumpkin as she describes how she felt when her boyfriend kissed her. 'Tingly,' she says, dreamily. 'He used to come over and cuddle me and put his hands up my top. It used to feel cosy. I feel desperate to go up to him and say "Ben, why don't we kiss any more". It hurts so much that we don't kiss that I want to rip my heart out and throw it away.'

Laura-Anne, from Siddick, a two-street village near Workington in Cumbria, is nine years old. Next year she will become a star as the main character in a fly-on-the-wall documentary about the sexual awakening of Britain's pre-teens, with her every thought pored over by television critics and sociologists. The makers of How To Fall In Love, due for broadcast by Channel 4 in the new year, spent two years following the primary school pupil and her friends as they discovered the opposite sex. The Observer has seen the film. To some it will be a sweet and tender portrayal of childhood love, while others will rage against the increasingly sexualised world in which children grow up. Laura-Anne is shown massaging 11-year-old Steven Hilland while he watches TV and eats crisps. Asked later about the scene, she tilts her head coquettishly and says: 'Sometimes I dig my nails in and scratch him hard.' 'I love it when you do that,' Steven replies with a grin. [...]

Although the programme is not sexually explicit, Steven told The Observer he first had full sex when he was 11, and had been several times to the family planning clinic. All the children said they had their first 'proper kiss with tongues' when they were six or seven. [...]

Janice Hanrahan, Laura-Anne's mother, said: 'It can be very uncomfortable to see your nine-year-old on TV talking about being in love but it actually reminded me of having those feelings at a similar age. You simply forget as you grow up. 'People who say they want to keep children safe and innocent for as long as they can are fooling themselves.' While many parents will be horrified at the thought of their pre-pubescent children engaging in any kind of sexual activity, some experts argue that we are all sexual beings, that children learn about touch and loving relationships from day one and that parents need to be comfortable talking about sexuality with their children early on.

source: Article 'The secret love life of Laura-Anne, aged 9¾ - Channel 4 faces fresh controversy over fly-on-the-wall film of pre-teen romance' by Lorna Martin & Nell Card; The Observer; 18 December 2005