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Yes, TV Can Be Bad for Teenagers

By Rebeldad Brian Reid

On Monday, The Post ran a front-page story with the blockbuster news that teens who see a lot of sex or sex talk in television are more likely to get pregnant. Though I found the association between the two fascinating, I can’t say I am altogether surprised that a constant drumbeat of TV sex can spill over into the real world. (I see it in all kind of other areas, too. Ever been to a driving range during the Masters? Or your local YMCA swimming pool a couple of days after the Olympics?)

What was really amazing was the reaction to the study from parents. Post reporter Rob Stein, who wrote Monday’s story, ended up hosting a chat with the study’s author later in the day, and most of the hour was filled with folks who seemed convinced that the study couldn't possibly be showing that TV was causing teen pregnancy. The common theme was that there must be another reason for the link and that the researchers must have hopelessly confused correlation with causation.

And while I don’t want to declare that the study was beyond scientific reproach, the vehemence of the repeated questioning took me back, as if the people writing in couldn’t bear to think that all those evenings their kids spent watching Gossip Girl or Two and a Half Men couldn’t possibly have had an impact.

I am all in favor of free speech and as much violence, cussing and sex on television as the FCC could possibly allow. I know there is a V-chip in my television, but I am not particularly interested in using it. I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to try to shield all of the negative elements of pop culture out of my house: far better to use it as a teaching tool. And it’s my responsibility as a parent to either limit the amount of media that comes into my kid’s brain or accept the consequences that come with it.

I don’t think a couple of episode of How I Met Your Mother will automatically turn anyone into a teenage parent nor do I think that Grand Theft Auto is breeding a generation of nihilists, but I accept that this stuff has an impact, even if it’s small. That people went out of their way on Monday to suggest otherwise boggles my mind.

Of course, I’m not speaking from experience. My kids aren’t in the teen pregnancy danger zone, and they are young enough that I do have near-total control of their exposure to media. So I’d love to hear your take: Do you see TV as having a real impact on young minds, or is the boob tube the least of your worries with all of the other influences on kids?

Brian Reid writes about parenting and work-family balance. You can read his blog at rebeldad.com.

By Brian Reid |  November 6, 2008; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Teens
Previous: The Final Tally: How the Election Affected Our Kids | Next: Preschooler, You're Outta Here!

Comments


People believe what they want to believe, including Brian.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 7:16 AM | Report abuse

I agree that these different forms of media impact our children both positively and negatively. I see it in my small children looking to mimic the characters they see in their shows. I remember wacthing programs as a teen and wanting to be like the glamorous girls and certainly hoping for those ridiculous romatic scenarios that are so prevalent and appealing on t.v. Teenagers really want to be grown ups and they don't just look to their parents as models of that and it wouldn't make sense if that's all they did. My life as a 45 year old woman (when my son is a teen) won't resemble what their life will or should look like at 20, which is what they are aspiring to. So, I think it is important to think about and limit what they are exposed to.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | November 6, 2008 7:36 AM | Report abuse

I think these findings are certainly worth discussing and thinking about. Here are a few snips of my blog post on the topic from this morning:

Here's the thing about media images: they live in us. The dramatic nature of the impact of visual images, particularly those in motion, on our psyches is hard to describe to people who watch a lot of media. It is understood naturally by people who have spent times of their adult lives without much interaction with visual media.

...the study suggested that there was a statistically significant different pregnancy rate between hi- and low-sexual-content-watchers even when sexual activity was taken into account. This is a very interesting point, and adds some credibility to the suggestion that the content is in some way influencing unsafe sexual behavior - not just sexual behavior in general.

Television is important and relevant in influencing our view of the world. Now, teenage pregnancy happened pre-television and I highly suspect it will continue to happen post-television. But television content does have an impact on the viewers, and ignoring that impact (potential or realized) on our children and teenagers would be irresponsible.

You can read my whole post here: http://karenrayne.com/2008/11/06/sexy-tv-pregnant-teens/

Posted by: karenrayne | November 6, 2008 7:45 AM | Report abuse

The TV is evil!

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 6, 2008 8:19 AM | Report abuse

I believe that TV viewing does impact its viewers. I can't specifically comment on teenage pregnancy.

My husband does not like to watch violence on TV. He says it influences his temper and makes it harder to control because of the images he sees. He goes a very good job of keeping control these days so am I to argue? If I want to watch a violent DVD... he either goes does something else or I watch it when he is out. I have to admit that my tolerance for violence in movies has dropped because I watch much less violence. Some movies I can no longer watch because they are too violent and upset me. Yet before I met my husband? Didn't bother me in the slightest. Perhaps my senses were deadened due to constant exposure.

My stepson and stepdaughter are scared of the dark. They are frightened of witches, mummies and ghosts. I had a conversation with him recently when we were alone doing an errand. He says that he knows these things exist because he sees them on TV. I couldn't convince him otherwise. I realize he is 6 so maybe the influence is different but there it is. I know I try very hard to limit his exposure to violence. Based on the way he beats on my stuffed animals...he doesn't need any more encouragement or exposure than he already has.

So... although I don't believe that I am influenced heavily but what I see, I know others that are so I find this study quite believable.

Posted by: Billie_R | November 6, 2008 8:59 AM | Report abuse

Brian, here is my take as a statistician:

I can't really state exactly what the studies says because I haven't examined the data.

But briefly looking at the article, (from a statistical point of view), the study does not show causation at all. It is simply stating there is a correlation between excessive sexual tv viewing and teen pregnancy. But the key to the study (statistically speaking) is on the second page of that article that the corrleation may be explained by teens who are more likely to get pregnant (for a variety of other unknown reasons) enjoy watching more sexually explicit tv programs. In essence, their choice of tv viewing fits their "interests.":)

That being said, of course the media and tv has a large influence on behavior of certain groups of people. And responsible parents should monitor the content for their children. But simply shutting off the tv or watching G-rated films will NOT insure your child will not get pregnant or get someone else pregnant.

Statistics 101 lesson:Correlation is not causation.

And frankly stated, if they could prove causation it would be reported that way. My guess is the study did not even come close to proving causation and there are statistical tools to prove or disprove causation.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 9:15 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome,

"But the key to the study (statistically speaking) is on the second page of that article that the corrleation may be explained by teens who are more likely to get pregnant (for a variety of other unknown reasons) enjoy watching more sexually explicit tv programs. "

OR, maybe the kids with hot pants are coded by nature to have more frequent sex & hotter sex resulting in more pregnancies.
No TV required.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 9:24 AM | Report abuse

On yesterdays discussion: AB why do you think Palin is smart? I am not saying she isn't smart. Frankly, I don't know her. But I don't think she demonstrated she is smart.

I do agree that she is strong and ambitious. I don't care one way or another about her prolife stance.

But knowing what role the Vice President plays in the Senate is 8th grade civics class and she got it wrong.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 9:28 AM | Report abuse

jezebel3:That is funny. I will leave that up to the biologists to prove.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 9:46 AM | Report abuse

But knowing what role the Vice President plays in the Senate is 8th grade civics class and she got it wrong.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 9:28 AM |

Could you please explain to me how Palin got it wrong? Before you do, two quotes:

The VP is "in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom." -- Sarah Palin

"The Vice President of the United States shall be President of the Senate, but shall have no Vote, unless they be equally divided." -- United States Constitution, Article I, Section 3

While it's true that modern VPs have not taken an active role in the Senate like earlier VPs did, to claim that Palin failed 8th grade civics is simply wrong.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | November 6, 2008 10:55 AM | Report abuse

afsljafweljkjlfe

Are you related to Mister Mxyzptlk?

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 11:11 AM | Report abuse

"afsljafweljkjlfe

Are you related to Mister Mxyzptlk?"

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 11:11 AM

I can see why you might think that, but no, there is no relation.

Posted by: afsljafweljkjlfe | November 6, 2008 11:13 AM | Report abuse

foamgnome is right in pointing out the causation/correlation problem but I also read a critique of the study that points out that many of the teens dropped out of the study or refused to discuss whether they were sexually active. So what we have here are a set of reports from teens (accurate or not?) who stuck with the study and were willing to admit to sexual activity and to report their TV watching habits. I.E. we don't appear to have anything that could be described as a representative sample.

That said, I still think teens are influenced by the culture they grow up in and even though we don't have TV, my kids hear about these shows at school and the popular culture creates norms that my kids may feel pressure to meet even if they are unfamiliar with the source. So I'm open to debate about whether it's better to expose kids to this stuff and then discuss it or limit their ability to see it. Right now we don't have TV because I'm a stingy Yankee who won't pay for cable.

Posted by: annenh | November 6, 2008 11:16 AM | Report abuse

My philosophy with my kids is to give them as much freedom of choice as possible. The limits I impose have more to do with time than content. They both make choices that I just hate. My daughter's favorite channel right now is Animal Planet. Talk about sex and violence!!

The point is that they have to do all the required stuff -- homework, sports, music, getting out with friends.... After that they have this opportunity to make their own choices. I imagine where kids get in trouble according to these studies is that they're watching too much TV and not engaging in other healthy activities.

Posted by: feebee | November 6, 2008 11:24 AM | Report abuse

Feebee - good point, well said. I think your point speaks to a lot of the problems we have today.

Posted by: moxiemom1 | November 6, 2008 11:31 AM | Report abuse

I think the study merely gives scientific validity to the age old cliché "Monkey see, Monkey do."

I don't know of anybody that is remotely surprised by the results.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | November 6, 2008 12:50 PM | Report abuse

foamgnome, I got the impression that Palin is smart by listening to a number of her interviews/answers later in the campaign, when she started just answering questions rather than being too tightly controlled by the campaign. (Interestingly enough, that was about the same time Joe "gaffe a minute" Biden STOPPED answering questions. :-) Yeah, the Couric interview was a disaster, but the later ones weren't bad at all.

Re: the VP duties, though: alphabet soup above is pretty much correct. The constitutional duties of the VP are twofold: Preside over the Senate and cast a tie-breaking vote; and replace the President if he dies/becomes incapacitated/is removed from office. Early VPs, such as Adams and Jefferson, ran the Senate on a day-to-day basis. That changed when the VP started being busier in the Executive Branch. Today, neither VP nor the President Pro Tempore of the Senate runs the place; that's fallen to the Majority Leader. However, if a VP decided that "I'm going to show up in the Senate every day and be the presiding officer", I don't think that there's much the Senate could do to stop it. There's a really good history of this on the Senate's web site, at http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/common/briefing/Vice_President.htm (It's old; it still lists Gore as VP, but things haven't really changed since then.)

She didn't really fail Civics; she oversimplified things in her answer to a third grader. There are worse things. (I don't have an Indian accent; can I stop in the 7-11 or Dunkin Donuts when I'm in Delaware this Saturday? :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 6, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

OK correct me if I am wrong but being President of the Senate simply means your the most senior member of the Senate. You have no real power over Senators. In fact you have less power, because you only get to vote in the case of a tie, which is less likely to occur.

The VP is "in charge of the U.S. Senate so if they want to they can really get in there with the senators and make a lot of good policy changes that will make life better for Brandon and his family and his classroom." -- Sarah Palin

How can being in "charge" of the Senate (via the President of the Senate) translate to you can make a lot of good policy changes?


The VP that have been influential were influential because of what went on behind closed doors. Not because of their tie breaking vote (which does not happen all that often).

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:11 PM | Report abuse

AB: Did Republicans later in the campaign only allow her to be around conservative audiences because that is where she held the most appeal?

I did not listen to most of her interviews past the Couric interview. But I did listen to the debate and she did not come off too intelligent. I don't think she came off being stupid but not intelligent.

Frankly I think the McCain campaign did a very poor judge prepping her and when they finally unveiled her, she wasn't all that impressive. And yet she does appeal to the Republican party. In fact, they are trying to groom her for 2012.

I will give you she is ballsy (ie strong) and ambitious. And I can definitely see how she appeals to the conservative base. What surprised me was she appealed to the more centrists out there.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:16 PM | Report abuse

Again AB, simply presiding over the senate giving them any real power depends a lot on the make up of the Senate.

Again the only reasons Republicans could be happy last Tuesday was the no 60. A good deal of what goes on depends on the numbers.

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:19 PM | Report abuse

Mental Note: Strangle foamgnome the next time she feeds AB.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 1:30 PM | Report abuse

jezebel3: Sorry, I will stop feeding...

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

"OK correct me if I am wrong but being President of the Senate simply means your the most senior member of the Senate. "

Yes, you're wrong. See http://rules.senate.gov/senaterules/ which contains the Senate rules.

The "Presiding Officer" also called the "Chair" presides over the daily sessions. Yes, in the 20th and 21st centuries the Majority Leader determines what the order of business is and who does what, when; the "Presiding Officer" is ceremonial. But it wasn't always that way.

By recent tradition, the President Pro Tempore is the most senior member of the Senate but there's no rule that it has to be.

It's interesting to note that, under the 25th Amendment, the order of succession to the Presidency is: Vice President, then Speaker of the House, then President Pro Tempore of the Senate. NOT the Majority Leader! Methinks they're banking on never having to get that far in the succession list. :-)

The bottom line is that the VP's only mandated job is Presiding over the Senate, which he/she doesn't have to do on a daily basis. Shortly before being picked by McCain, Palin was asked if she was interested in being VP. She said that she'd have to find out what the duties were before deciding. That's actually a good answer, because in practice, the VP's duties are "whatever the heck the President tells you to do." With a President like LBJ or Nixon, that was "attend weddings and state funerals" and not much else. Since then (with the notable exception of Quayle) VPs always made sure they were getting real duties before agreeing to take the job.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 6, 2008 1:36 PM | Report abuse

"jezebel3: Sorry, I will stop feeding...

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:36 PM"

Too late! :-)

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | November 6, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

AB: I can't comment because it would annoy some people. But I would have a realistic question to ask you if I could. :)

Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse

AB: I can't comment because it would annoy some people. But I would have a realistic question to ask you if I could. :)


Posted by: foamgnome | November 6, 2008 1:56 PM | Report abuse


Go ahead, foamy. It's another day of AB's lectures & links...

Where are the blogstats?

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I think the problem is that we try to discourage teens from doing what is natural and enjoyable to start with. Then they see it all over tv and learn how to get what they want. Repression + inspiration = unsafe extremist behavior

If we made sex normal, happy, enjoyable, and taught teens healthy ways of engaging in it, the repression factor wouldn't be a problem and sex on tv wouldn't be a big deal.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | November 6, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse

If we made sex normal, happy, enjoyable, and taught teens healthy ways of engaging in it, the repression factor wouldn't be a problem and sex on tv wouldn't be a big deal.

Posted by: EmeraldEAD | November 6, 2008 2:08 PM | Report abuse


LOL!! Teen marriage is the #1 way to reduce teen sex. Very, very quickly.

Posted by: jezebel3 | November 6, 2008 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Off topic and GREAT NEWS!

Frieda has finished her breast cancer treatment and she is cancer FREE!

We are SO happy today!

Posted by: Fred_and_Frieda | November 6, 2008 3:52 PM | Report abuse

YAY Fred and Frieda - congrats. You made my day! Good vibes your way!

Posted by: moxiemom1 | November 6, 2008 4:05 PM | Report abuse

Yay Fred and Frieda -- add my congrats to the list!!

Posted by: laura33 | November 6, 2008 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Fred and Frieda, that is truly wonderful news!! I now leave the office on a high and happy note because of this. Good things should happen to good people!!! YAY!

Lynne

Posted by: lsturt | November 6, 2008 6:07 PM | Report abuse

Had to sign in to say congrats to Fred and Frieda. All the best to both of you.
Em

Posted by: emily8 | November 6, 2008 7:02 PM | Report abuse

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