FIRST-PERSON: Study on teens, media & sex confirms obvious

ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP)--Newsflash: Sexually charged television, movies, music and magazines are encouraging promiscuity in adolescents, a recently released study concludes.

The March edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health includes a study that evaluated media influence on the sexual intentions and behaviors of 1,011 teens ages 12 to 15 years old.

According to researchers Kelly Ladin L’Engle, Jane Brown and Kristin Kenneavy, “Mass media are an important context for adolescents’ sexual socialization.”

Further, they found that “83 percent of the top 20 Nielson-rated teen television shows contained some sexual content” and that other studies “confirm that there is an abundance of sexual content across a variety of media frequently used by teenagers.”

Thus, after the University of North Carolina professors examined the data from their study, they concluded, “Adolescents who are exposed to more sexual content in their media diets, and who perceive greater support from the media for teen sexual behavior, report more sexual activity and greater intentions to engage in sexual intercourse in the near future.”

The report, titled, “The mass media are an important context for adolescents’ sexual behavior,” also found that the majority of sexually charged situations depicted in the media are between unmarried couples. Additionally, the media usually presents promiscuous sex as “risk-free.”

Teenagers are influenced by the immoral and irresponsible sex that saturates the media. Who could have known?

Duh!

Pardon my sarcasm.

While I appreciate the study conducted by the good professors at UNC, do we really need a research team to tell us what should be self-evident?

It does not take a Ph.D. in sociology, journalism or mass media to realize that television, movies, music and many popular magazines are soaked in sexually charged imagery.

It does not take a research project to grasp that it is very difficult to go through a day without having some type of sensually provocative media thrown in your face.

Further, it does not take a rocket scientist to understand that teenagers, who already are struggling with changing bodies and raging hormones, are going to be influenced by a constant barrage of sexually suggestive media.

Of course, those who produce and promote the sleaze and filth that permeates most media maintain that their products do not have a direct influence on behavior. “It’s only entertainment,” or “It’s only advertising,” they contend.

Technically, society’s sex-peddlers are correct. One single sexually suggestive television program, song, movie or magazine probably will not have a tremendous affect on the average teen’s behavior. However, a steady diet of it will. This, the UNC researchers confirmed.

How much media do teens consume? According to the UNC professors, “A recent survey found that on average, U.S. adolescents spend six to seven hours per day using media -- three hours watching television, two hours listening to music, one hour watching videotapes and movies, and three-fourths of an hour reading.”

As a result of this constant media exposure, the UNC researchers concluded, “Media may serve as a kind of sexual 'super peer' for adolescents seeking information about sexuality because sexual content in the media is ubiquitous and easily accessible, and sexual messages are delivered by familiar and attractive models.”

Now that the good professors at UNC have confirmed that a constant barrage of sexually-charged media does indeed affect the attitudes and behaviors of teenagers, how should a responsible parent respond? Again, it should be self-evident.

Parents not only must know what media their kids are being exposed to, but they must also regulate it -- not only the amount, but also the content.

Given the results of the UNC study, one thing is very clear: A parent never should allow a teenager to have a television in his or her room –- or a computer for that matter. That's advice the researchers found most parent’s ignore.

“Even more surprising,” the UNC professors discovered, “two-thirds of adolescents have a television in their bedroom, more than one-third has their own VCR, and almost all have some kind of audio system.”

With so many parents allowing their teenagers unrestricted access to media, perhaps the study from the UNC researchers that sexually charged television, movies, music and magazines are encouraging promiscuity in adolescents will be a newsflash.

For the sake of their teenagers, I hope it is a newsflash that parents heed.


Boggs is editor of the Baptist Message newspaper in Louisiana.

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