While all age groups potentially could be affected by sexual messages on television, adolescents may be particularly vulnerable for a number of reasons. First, teens may not be sufficiently cognitively developed to discern and critique messages from television 1.
Second, these messages are bombarding teens at a stage when they are in the midst of developing their values and beliefs around gender roles, sexual behaviours and attitudes. Further, we know that teens spend a great deal of time watching television.
The average teen spends 3 h to 4 h per day in front of the television, which in some cases is more time than that spent in the classroom 2 , 3. The Kaiser Institute has studied both the frequency and content of sexual messages during the family hour on the main American television networks. In their research, there were an average of 8. How risky is teen sex? We also know that only In Canada, 45, teenage girls become pregnant each year 6.
According to Health Canada, the rate of teen pregnancy has risen over the past 10 years 6. While Canada has a much lower teen pregnancy rate than that of the United States, our rate is still higher than many other industrialized countries such as Finland, Sweden, Switzerland and Japan 6.
Sexually transmitted infections represent another major cause of morbidity associated with teen sexual activity. In Canada, teenage girls have the highest chlamydia and gonorrhea rates compared with any other age group 7. A few studies have assessed the association between the degree and nature of adolescent exposure to sexual content via television and their sexual attitudes and behaviours. In one study of 75 adolescent girls, one-half of whom were pregnant, the researchers found that the pregnant teens watched more soap operas before becoming pregnant and were less likely to think that their favourite soap opera characters would use birth control 9.
Another survey of youth revealed that those youth who watched television programs high in sexual content were more likely than those who viewed a smaller proportion of sexual content on television to have had sexual intercourse Data from the United States National Surveys of Children revealed that boys who watch more television had the highest prevalence of sexual intercourse and that those teens who watched television alone had a three to six fold increase in self-reported sexual activity compared to those who watched with their families In other words, are sexually active teens seeking out sexual content on television or is the sexual content on television influencing teens to be sexually active?
This is the crucial unanswered question in this field because of the lack of longitudinal research Simply put, if adolescents can learn aggressive behaviour from television, could they not also be able to learn sexual behaviour 14? Even though the Internet remains unstudied to date, it is a completely unregulated media source that is rampant with sexual images and sexually explicit content.
In addition, individuals can support organizations such as the Action Group on Violence on Television AGCOT whose mandate includes content concerns such as sexuality and nudity. The AGCOT is a volunteer, nonprofit organization that was created in to enable Canadian broadcasting and cable industries to address issues associated with violence on television. The V-chip, a Canadian invention, is an electronic filtering technology built into newer televisions Importantly, all information-based programming and music videos are exempt from this classification system.
From the public educational perspective, we can be actively advocating media awareness to be taught in our schools. Fortunately, middle school and high school students in Ontario, similar to other European countries, do receive some mandated teaching in media exposure Despite the fact that the research lags behind technology, as paediatricians we can be actively educating parents about media effects and giving anticipatory guidance to our patients and their parents.
Further, there are tools available to paediatricians working with youth to assess the role of media sources in their lives We can begin by taking a media history in our patients Table 1 For example, is time spent on the computer interfering with homework, extracurricular activities or time usually spent with friends?
Finally, could the teenager have an unhealthy association or preoccupation with a particular media activity or media character? This may be exemplified by a desire to relive favourite plots or media events How do you decide what shows to watch? Where is are the television s? Are there any house rules regarding viewing eg, no viewing until all homework is completed? What are your favourite television programs?
Are there rules regarding music videos? Who watches television with you? Do you surf the Internet? Open in a separate window Data from reference 13 Finally, increased knowledge and longitudinal research in this area requires greater advocacy and commitment by paediatricians.
How are we doing in Canada? Clearly our youth live in a media-saturated environment. How are we assessing the impact of media in their lives and are we teaching future physicians to do so? A three-part study of sexual content on television Dietz W, Strasburger VC. Children, adolescents and television. Sells C, Blum R. Morbidity and mortality among US adolescents: An overview of data and trends.
Am J Pub Health. Davis K, Weller S. The effectiveness of condoms in reducing heterosexual transmission of HIV. Sex Education Coalition News. Brown J, Newcomer S. Television viewing and early initiation of sexual intercourse: Is there a link?
Gruber E, Grube JW. Adolescent sexuality and the media: A review of current knowledge and implications. Strasburger VC, Donnerstein E. Children, adolescents, and the media: Brown J, Steele J. Sex and the Mass Media. Kaiser Family Foundation; Rich M, Bar-on M. Child health in the information age: Media education of pediatricians.