Moms, do you know what your daughters are watching?
Dr. Wendy Walsh: Lately, I've noticed my almost-12-year-old daughter closing the door to my bedroom while she watches TV. And the last couple times I intruded, I saw that she was watching an ABC Family show called "The Secret Life of the American Teenager." The show's website warns that viewer discretion is advised. I assume that's because the plot deals with teen pregnancy, premature motherhood, and every kind of relationship dilemma ever -- including sex. Yikes!
No doubt about it. Our media is getting more risqué every year. And that media is becoming more and more accessible to our kids and teens. In a UCLA study on adolescent sexuality and the media, the exposure rates are shocking. On average, adolescent viewers see 143 incidents of sexual behavior on network television at prime time each week, with far more portrayals of sexual activity between unmarried couples as between spouses. As much as 80 percent of all movies shown on network or cable television stations have sexual content, and even music videos are filled with sexual feelings and impulses. Most disturbing is the fact that the sexual messages on television tend to be shown in a positive light, with little discussion of the risks of unprotected sexual intercourse and few portrayals of dangerous consequences.
But the consequences of sexual activity in the real world are very real. Among adolescent girls in the United States between 15 and 17 years of age, 75 per 1,000 become pregnant each year, a rate two to seven times higher than rates in other industrialized nations. And 25 percent of sexually active teenagers and 13 percent of all adolescents between the ages of 13 and 19 become infected with sexually transmitted diseases each year. That's 3 million cases!
But the million-dollar question is this: Is there a link between media exposure to sexual content and adolescent sexual behavior? That's still up for debate. Some sociologists believe that greater exposure to media in general leads kids to adopt the values, beliefs, and behaviors that are portrayed, particularly when they aren't accompanied by scenes with negative consequences. And research on violence in the media backs this up. More violent media leads to more aggression in children.
But sex is different. Sexuality may not be learned through observation the way aggression is. For instance, it's been found that general exposure to alcohol advertising does not affect a teen's alcohol use. Yet, if the teens really like the content in the ad -- like the music or humor -- then it is linked to an increase of alcohol use.
And sexual content? Researchers are still trying to determine what factors in sexual media create premature or unsafe sexual behavior. For now, I plan on sitting through that ABC show with my kid, to explain any negative consequences that the producers fail to highlight.
|Dr. Wendy Walsh holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and her area of interest is Attachment Theory, a psychological, evolutionary and ethological theory that provides a descriptive and explanatory framework for understanding interpersonal relationships between human beings. As a psychological assistant registered with the California Board of Psychology, Dr. Walsh has treated individuals, couples and families for a variety of mental health concerns including personality disorders, anger management, eating and substance disorders, and depression. Connect with Dr. Walsh on Facebook.|