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Does TV Have An Influence On Teens?

November 12, 2008

Let’s talk about sex.
Specifically, teens having sex. They are, you know. A lot more of them than we’d like to think.
And a new study suggests that pregnancy rates are substantially higher among teenagers who watch racy television programming than teens who don’t, regardless of the teens’ family structure or family income level or grades or parents’ education level.
I always knew there was something just… wrong about Gossip Girl. And don’t even get me started on Juno. I mean, I actually liked the film, but geez, glamorize teen pregnancy much?
Anyway, there was a time when my stepdaughter watched a few episodes of Gossip Girl and I watched it with her and just cringed. Mostly because it was stupid and unrealistic – I mean come on, I’m not buying that a bunch of 15 to 17-year-olds routinely go to fashionable Manhattan bars and toss back martinis like they were born with one in their hand. And the whole storyline was just dripping with sex and drugs and intrigue and not a moment of teen angst, which, well, puh-leeze. How is that compelling?
But while I as an adult can watch shows like Gossip Girl and think these things, it would make sense that teenagers, who haven’t really experienced any of the joys and horrors that life has to offer, might confuse fantasy and reality when watching television, and might believe their own lives could be at least vaguely similar, if they just had a little more money, easier access to alcohol, and greater, erm, carnal knowledge.
The question I have for you is, what’s the solution when it comes to teens and television? Mine was to watch Gossip Girl with her as long as she was interested in it. Discussions on how unrealistic the show was just came naturally, as we watched it. And my solution continues to be to keep our televisions confined to common areas of our house, like the playroom and the living room. But I don’t restrict television shows from my teenagers. Doing so seems a little extreme.
At the same time, this study gives us a better reason to do just that than anything I’ve seen before.
This study also puts the burden on studios that produce and promote shows like “Gossip Girl”. Sure airing programming with incredibly wealthy teens casually having sex, drinking and doing drugs generates ratings, but now that there’s evidence that it might actually perpetuate societal problems, do studios have a moral obligation to save this kind of thing for the “Sex and the City” adult crowd?
What do you think?
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