Head Goes Right Here along Top Kids Get Their Sex Education from TV

Article excerpt

Byline: Todd Huffman For The Register-Guard

When parents think about environmental exposures during childhood, they might think of lead, pesticides or grass pollens. In fact, the greatest environmental exposure for most children is television: They spend more time watching it than they do in any other wakeful activity, and it has significant effects on their health and well-being.

Both parents and pediatricians have asked: "Is it good or bad?"

Television is inherently neither; it's time to move beyond such black-and-white thinking. Television is a tool - it all depends on what they watch and how they watch it.

Used carefully for children older than 2, television need not have untoward effects, and according to recent studies, can even exert a positive influence. By and large, however, it is not being used carefully. For the most part, parents are clueless about the content and consequences of the media-saturated world their children inhabit.

Content is the critical mediator in the effects of TV on children. Watching "Sesame Street" or the Discovery Channel is not the same as watching "Grey's Anatomy" or "Desperate Housewives." That 95 percent of American children watch programs that are produced for more mature audiences is a concern when you consider that children, who use the media to learn about culture, typically lack the knowledge and experience to recognize what is unrealistic.

Today's parents should recognize that the media represent a powerful teacher of children and adolescents. The media cut across virtually every concern that parents and pediatricians have about young people: sex, violence, homicide, suicide, obesity, eating disorders, school problems and drug use.

Permitted to view a weekly average of 30 hours of television - largely absent adult consideration of the developmental fitness of the programming - it should not seem remarkable that today's children and adolescents are more overweight, inattentive, violent and sexual than any previous generation.

American teens, especially, are adrift in one of the most crude, brutal and explicitly sexualized popular cultures in the history of the world. Through television, music videos and the Internet, teens have unprecedented access to an astounding array of both real and virtual sexual experiences.

With schools and parents not always eager to tackle the subject adequately, the media have arguably become the leading sex educator in America today. And that's not particularly good news.

The sexual content in much of the media that today's teens tune in to is frequent, glamorized and consequence-free. "Everyone does it" on television and in the movies, or so it seems. Yet the need for birth control, the risks of pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections or the need for responsibility rarely are discussed.

Too often, children and teens are permitted to view late-evening programming hypersexualized at times to the degree that many adults feel uncomfortable watching. And too often, shows targeting adolescents seem like "Happy Days With Hormones," with sexual intercourse appearing a normative and casual activity even for teens.

In these ways, the media function as a kind of sexual "super peer." They provide role models of attractive adults and older adolescents engaging in risky behavior, and put additional pressure on young people to have sex at a young age. …