Influence of Sexual TV Programming on Teenagers
“This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.”
This article discusses two new programs on ABC called “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Greek”. ABC has traditionally known as a “family channel” have new programs that centers around sex themes for high schoolers and college students.
A high-school guidance counselor agrees to change a student’s schedule so that he is more likely to meet a girl who will have sex with him. A cheerleader breaks up with her boyfriend after discovering that he accepted oral sex from the school tramp. A good-girl French horn player discovers she is pregnant after a one-night stand at band camp and debates with a friend whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.
Sound like the kind of racy fare one might see on HBO or its slightly tamer cousin, the CW? Think again. The previous scenes come from The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a hit show on ABC Family that is changing the network’s image and may change parents’ minds on whether to allow their children to watch the channel.
According to the ratings, most parents aren’t concerned. The show, which focuses on the romantic entanglements of a pregnant 15-year-old girl and her friends, has given ABC Family its biggest audience yet, with nearly 4 million viewers per episode. This is millions more than the CW’s much-hyped teen drama Gossip Girl draws in, despite the fact that ABC Family broadcasts in far fewer homes. Teen viewers also crowned Secret Life with “Choice Summer TV Show” at the 2008 Teen Choice awards. Yet many argue that the show’s material is hardly appropriate entertainment for the 12- to 17-year-old viewers it attracts.
With episodes showing teens in bed together and frank discussion of masturbation and internet porn, the content is so adult, it prompted one Huffington Post critic to quip, “If that’s family programming, what would non-family programming look like? Frontal nudity?” But network executives claim that Secret Life isn’t pushing the envelope so much as staying right in step with real teen experiences.
ABC still claiming to be a Family Channel
ABC has historically been known as a family channel, a network safe for families to watch together during prime time hours. However the two new programs have raised huge concerns due to it’s heavy sexual content. Disney who owns ABC has released very peculiar ratings such as 18-34 and 12-34 in order to perhaps avoid any controversy of rating the show as a “teenager” show. Surprised? Their other show “Greek” is centered around college freshmen pledging into fraternities and sororities engaging in casual sex with a general lighthearted comedic attitude.
“It’s kind of a misnomer to call ABC Family a family channel,” said Michele MacNeal, head of a local branch of the Parents Television Council. “When you call something ‘family,’ it gives the impression that it’s safe for all members of the family, even young children.”
Sexual Content on TV impacting Teenager Behavior
With sexual content on TV doubling in the past few years, there has been many studies conducted in order to measure the increase in sexual programming to teenager behavior. Not surprisingly, the studies conducted by independent research groups show that sexual content does impact behavior of its viewers.
According to research conducted by the independent, nonprofit firm RAND, watching television programs with sexual content not only makes teens more likely to engage in sex, but also increases the likelihood of pregnancy. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics asked 2,000 12- to 17-year-olds to keep track of the television shows they watched that contained sexual content. Those who watched a high amount of such programming were twice as likely to get pregnant or to get someone else pregnant.
Noting that sexual content on TV has doubled in recent years, behavioral scientist Anita Chandra who led the study commented, “Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy.” This held true even when factors like parental involvement and economic status were accounted for. “We found a strong association. . . . Even when we removed all the other factors,” Chandra stated. “We still saw a compelling link between a high exposure to sexual content on television and teen pregnancies.”
A previous study by the RAND organization also found that teens who watch such programming are twice as likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the following year as those who don’t. And it doesn’t matter whether the programs actually depict sexual behavior or merely talk about it—according to the research, both types impact teens’ sexual behavior.
Said Rebecca Collins, the psychologist who headed the 2004 study, “This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.
SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS:
- Do you watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager?
- Do you think it’s influence is negative or positive of teenagers?
- What life lessons (or norms) does the show teach? Have examples?
- Do you think by watching numerous shows similar to this would have an impact in the way a person behaves or considers norm?