The media recently reported that a popular clothing retailer has decided to reintroduce a catalogue that includes semi-nude, young models for distribution to their 18-years-and-older shoppers. Parents of some online gamers have been shocked to discover that some popular games allow sexual dialogue and communication. A popular youth star has been in the media spotlight almost every week for drug and alcohol exploits, revealing photos, or the “clubbing” lifestyle. The popular media has no intention to filter this information before it reaches children 17 and younger, and unless media companies decided to give us all voting rights in their board rooms this situation will not change anytime soon. But do these media messages really have an impact on the direct choices of teens watching them? Do teens really adapt their behavior to fit media expectations? A variety of surveys and studies on the topic have been done. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, teens 12 to 14 who had a high “sexual media diet” were 2.2. times more likely to have sexual intercourse when 14 to 16. This finding approximates itself in other studies such as Kaiser Permanente’s, and also shows that the influential effect is stronger in Caucasian children than African American children.
Parenting toward sound moral and personal decision making can seem like trying to shout a message to your teen across five lanes of freeway traffic. The thundering noise easily drowns out the quiet wisdom. What is the solution? According to the studies mentioned, managing media exposure does correspond with a lower rate of sex in teens, and so reducing unfiltered media time makes sense. What else will help? In preparation for some dialogue about decision making and accountability regarding sexual behavior, have your teen do some research and keep a tally count how many messages on TV or the internet he or she can find in a 30 minute period that promote a particular attitude about sexual or other behavior. In fact, parents can also tally the same 30 minute period and compare the results. Now, nobody likes to admit that their behavior is influenced by somebody else, and teens will deny if directly confronted with this declaration. Instead, it may be more effective to discuss topics like whether or not TV portrays “accountability” accurately for risky decision making, or exploring the motivations of people on reality shows or other types of media. If nothing else, even if rolling eyes are the answer you get back, or a shrug, at least they know you have been paying attention.