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FIRST-PERSON: Television’s impact on teens

McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–A recent national study concerning the media’s influence on teen behavior has some activist groups up in arms.

A spokesman for one organization is alarmed because kids are “bombarded by images” which are influencing their behavior. This representative believes the pervasive nature of these enticing images is leading kids to conclude that “everybody does it.”

Another group contends that every movie depicting the activity should be given an R rating. Their argument is that the earlier a young person is exposed to this behavior, the more likely he or she will try it.

So, what is this behavior that researchers say shows up in 74 percent of movies and is also depicted on TV and promoted in magazines?


“Exposure to Movie Smoking: Its Relation to Smoking Initiation Among U.S. Adolescents,” a study conducted by Dartmouth Medical School, appears in the November 2005 issue of “Pediatrics” (the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics).

Interestingly, a study released Nov. 9 by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that 77 percent of prime-time television programming contains “sexual content.” Sexual content included discussions about sex to scenes including everything from kissing to intercourse.

Kaiser studied a sample of a week’s worth of shows airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, WB, PBS, Lifetime, TNT, USA Network and HBO. It found that programs averaged five sex scenes per hour. According to the study, the number of scenes involving sex has nearly doubled since 1998.

Media watchdog groups said the study proves there is too much sex on TV during the hours that kids could be watching.

One conservative organization expressed concern, stressing that research clearly indicates that young people who have repeated exposure to media with sexual content become sexually active at an earlier age.

While the study did not offer an opinion on whether sex on TV is harmful to children, lead researcher Dale Kunkel said it’s generally established that TV influences kids.

“Their sexual knowledge, attitudes, behaviors are all shaped in part by the characters in stories that television conveys,” he said.

However, the notion that something should be done about the sexual content on television was pooh-poohed by Jim Dyke, the executive director of TV Watch, an advocacy group made up of major media corporations that “advocate parental controls and oppose government intervention” into TV programming.

“Some activists will only see another opportunity to push government as parent,” Dyke said, “but parents make the best decisions about what is appropriate for their family to watch….”

The initial response by liberal groups to these two studies, released within days of each other, has been that more must be done to remove depictions of smoking from movies, but that sex-saturated television is nothing to be concerned about.

When it comes to smoking, American society has waged an-all out war against lighting-up for the past 40 years. Cigarette packages must carry warning labels, and advertising of tobacco products is banned on television and radio. public service announcements remind everyone of the dangers of smoking.

Our culture does everything in its power to discourage people, especially teens, from puffing on cancer sticks.

The result? Smoking is viewed negatively by a majority of Americans. So much so that on Nov. 8, voters in Washington State passed a comprehensive ban on smoking in public places.

However, when it comes to the subject of teen sex, society seems to be, at best, ambivalent.

Media and advertising aimed at teenagers is saturated with sexually charged imagery. Yet anyone who even suggests a curb to the titillating content is labeled prudish.

The main message American society sends to teens about sex is “be safe, be responsible, be ready.” Liberals scoff at the suggestion of promoting sexual abstinence as the best policy to teens.

If anti-smoking groups had taken the “safe and responsible” approach that current American society does toward teen sex, then smoking would not be viewed as the unhealthy vice that it is.

When Americans get as alarmed about sex-saturated media as they do about smoke-filled movies, then and only then will we begin to see a society, and teenagers, that respect sex as a precious gift to be shared by a man and a woman only in marriage.

    About the Author

  • Kelly Boggs