How Teenagers Follow the Plot on Sexuality

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), November 28, 1999 | Go to article overview

How Teenagers Follow the Plot on Sexuality


Byline: FIDELMA COOK

TEENAGERS are tuning into teatime soaps and reading glossy magazines for guidance on how, when and where they should be having sex.

And they are being bombarded with images and story-lines suggesting that all 16-year-olds are either having or are about to have sex - so long as they're white, thin and beautiful.

In many cases the message from the media to young people is distorted, disturbed and dangerous with tales of underage sex, teenage mothers, rape and multiple partners shown as just a normal, if negative, part of life.

Gays, ethnic groups and the disabled are barely mentioned unless as threats, stereotypes or figures of fun.

The findings, in a report by Glasgow University's Media Group, will be revealed by the Health Education Board Scotland tomorrow, and could force parents and educationalists to look at ways to counteract the often bleak message sent to children.

The report was last night described as 'disturbing' by Scottish church leaders.

Glasgow University experts studied all aspects of the media earlier this year to assess just how teenage sex was portrayed.

They were asked to monitor the images, not how teenagers would respond to them. Now HEBS will use the results to encourage debate on sex education.

Previous research has suggested that the media is considered a more important source of information on sex than friends, parents or teachers.

Studies have found teenagers are more likely to take characters from top teen soaps such as Hollyoaks and

Dawson's Creek as role models than listen to factual advice and are likely to be influenced by magazines such as Just 17 and Bliss - aimed specifically at young teenagers.

In the popular show Dawson's Creek the character Jenn, played by Michelle Williams, portrays a 15-year-old temptress who was once caught having sex in her parents' bed.

A HEBS spokesman said yesterday: 'It's a very complex picture being presented to so-called mid-teenagers, the 14, 15 and 16 year olds.

'What we've done is simply look at what was presented to teenagers in a snapshot period.

Teenagers are really hungry for this information and, because of that, there is a responsibility the media must accept.

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