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Media, Sexuality And Teenagers

Info: 3297 words (13 pages) Essay
Published: 9th May 2017 in Media

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Youths living in the 21st century spend inordinate amounts of time with the media. They laugh with characters who are funny; they viciously attack and destroy evil creatures as they play their favorite video games; they see advertising for candy, makeup, and even liquor; they listen to rap lyrics about sex and violence; and they interact with people all over the world online. Needless to say, it is a completely different social world than the one their parents and grandparents faced during childhood and therefore, the effect media has on teenagers is overpowering. In constant contact with the media, Teenagers today are faced with often conflicting and confusing messages about how they are supposed to behave sexually. While adults, schools, and religious institutions are still reluctant to provide sexuality education for adolescents, the mass media is not at all reticent, portraying sexual behavior as riveting, common in everyday life, emotionally and physically risk free. Undoubtedly, the sexuality presented in the media has had a significant effect on the behavior of modern day teenagers, making the confusion between media and reality and the perception that teens have on reality.

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Considering the effect media has on adolescents. First of all, it must be recognized that over time, the amount of sexual content that is shown in the media has increased remarkably at a swift rate. Media and its leniency to what may or may not be shown or heard publicly have increased a great amount over the years. A study showed that “Pornography is big business, generating $13 billion just in the U.S. in 2006 (IT Facts, 2007). Although sex magazines have greatly declined in circulation since the mid-1990s, that drop has been more than compensated for by video sales and rentals, cable and pay-per-view TV, and especially the explosive growth of Internet pornography, producing over 20% of the total revenue in 2006.” (Bryant 305) Even the media that is meant for children is being tampered with and contaminated with information that most children do not and should not know. The book, Children, Adolescents, and the Media states that “On television each year, American children and teenagers view nearly 14,000 sexual references, innuendoes, and behaviors, few of which (less than 170) involve the use of birth control, self-control, abstinence, or responsibility.” (Strasburger 213) Adolescents today have too easy access to the variety of media and therefore, are more susceptible to any inappropriate or sexual content than their parents. There are four major sources of media that children and teenagers are exposed to. These are the shows that they view on television, the music, the games, and the Internet.

When adolescents are exposed to this various media, they have a tendency to choose media and interact with it based on who they are or who they want to be at the moment. “The assumptions of media uses are similar to gratifications theory, which suggests that media consumers come to the media with different needs and motives and that what they take away from the media will depend on why they came to it.” (Brown 9) Moreover, what those adolescents learn also varies according to the adolescents’ sense of self-identity and lived experience. Since these teenagers are undergoing the crucial moment in their lives, shaping their own ego and identity and extremely vulnerable to all this tremendous amount of information from the media, what they choose to absorb from the media and what is sensational and stimulus in the media can be very influential. The exaggerated or distorted image of sex in the media is omnipresent and detrimental to adolescents who are not fully prepared to distinguish between reality and situation that can only happen an unreal world, such as television show.

One of the most influential media that affects teenagers is television. Many studies have documented television’s ability to transmit information and to shape attitudes. Television influences adolescents’ perception of social behavior and social reality. Television may offer teenagers a guideline for sexual behavior that they might not be able to observe anywhere else. Television stations such as Disney Channel, Nickelodeon or even Cartoon Network have been intensified and marketed in a way so that older children would continue to watch these channels. By doing this, the younger children who have initially always watched the shows are exposed to things that they shouldn’t be experiencing. “The most recent content analysis of television found that more than 75% of prime-time kids shows on the major networks contain sexual content, but only 14% of incidents include any mention of the risks or responsibilities of sexual activity or the need for contraception. This figure rises to 27% for shows depicting or implying intercourse.” (Kunkel, Eyal, Finnerty, Biely, & Donnerstein) Television is definitely one of the sources of media which convey wrong image of sex.

Television has a tremendous impact on the behavior of children and teenagers over time by giving them improper knowledge of sex. The media and the amount of sexual and violent content that is allowed to be shown not only on children’s stations but on stations that are meant to be viewed as families have increased a lot. An example of this is just the commercials that are advertised on television. Even on channels such as Nickelodeon, advertisements that are shown are not necessarily appropriate for children. It is known that “Nickelodeon guides children towards MTV by featuring artists whose music and actions are inappropriate for young children in concerts and in Kids Choice Awards.” (McEntire) A major part of television is also music channels, such as MTV and many more. These channels are the most universally watched channels by teenagers both male and female. On these channels, there are not only “reality” shows in which they show characters as violent and show sex as accepted, but there are many music videos which show many images of sex and violence. An example of “reality” shows on music channels are The Real World and Laguna Beach on MTV, or shows such as Jersey Shore, in which the main character was a girl who was known because of being a stripper and having pictures on MySpace with revealing clothes. On VH1 there are shows such as Flavor Flave in which a retired rapper is perused by many young women or I Love New York where a young, ignorant acting female is trying to be won over by many men. In these shows, there are many illustrations of promiscuous actions that were not necessarily sex, but may have led up to sex by what is shown in the show. However, music videos by themselves are a serious issue with the media. A surprising amount of illustrations of sex are shown in music videos, which were reported in the article by McEntire that said, “The average music video contains 93 sexual situations per hour. This includes eleven scenes actually depicting intercourse or oral sex.” (McEntire) These numbers are alarming, and to know that these are the programs that almost all teenagers view on a daily basis is upsetting.

As Television has become increasingly sexually explicit, Music plays a large part in the media affecting teenagers and their behavior. Many different types of music, such as Rap, Hip Hop, and Rock music are mainly directing its sales to the younger generation of people. The lyrics of these songs portray sex and violence. In many of these songs, they downgrade the worth of women and promote violence as it should be accepted. When the younger generation listens to these messages, as it is played repeatedly they begin to believe that it is the way that they should act, and lose sight of reality. In these songs, they also encourage the use of illegal substances to the younger generation such as drugs or Alcohol. An article proves that “As the popularity of music among youth grows, the number of teens who are becoming more violent, more sexually active and who are experimenting which drugs is steadily increasing.” (Keshan) Teenagers who listen to large amount and genres of music are less likely to be affected by the messages depicted in the music but those who mainly listen to one type of music are more likely to take in the message given out in this music. The particular genres of Rap, Hip-Hop and Rock and Roll have a large impact on the behavior of young females, especially those of the African-American and His panic races. A study shows that “Girls who watch 14 hours or more of rap music videos are more likely to engage in unsafe sex with multiple partners and get a STD.” (McEntire)

Just like most teenagers never take off their head phones playing their favorite music, video games are played by all ages of children, from little toddlers who are starting out learning letters or how to count to the older teenagers who play games with more detail and different situations. Video games over time have gotten more violent with content that is not appropriate for teenagers. From games of racing and sports such as football or baseball, to games that involve shooting and killing as if it was normal. These games do not only affect the behavior of teens, but they desensitize the future generations and how they depict violence. Furthermore, the worst thing is that they include sexual images such as naked women and strippers roaming a town or even raping scene as a mission. These games provoke teenagers to have strong desire to try out those distorted sexual images in reality. Grand Theft Auto is a game that is popular among teenagers, especially boys. A study depicts that “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, a video game rated M, was the best selling game among teens in 2002. In the game, players can simulate having sex with a prostitute and then killing her.” (Greenspan) This is just one example of many ways that violence and sexuality can be shown in multiple different video games. These games are mainly marketed to males, between the ages of 13 and 17 who would be more likely to go out and ask for a game containing violence or cars. Although this game is marked as M for mature, many parents wouldn’t know or check for the rating of a video game when purchasing the game for their child.

Although adolescents enjoy their pastime playing video games, the largest source of information that teenagers spend most of their time doing would to be the internet. With search engines such as Google, it is possible to find any information that may want to be discovered, whether it is appropriate or not. However, this exposure to inappropriate content is not always by the free will of the person sitting behind the screen. According to a study shown in 2006 “….increased proportions of youth internet users were encountering unwanted exposures to sexual material and online harassment, but decreased proportions were receiving unwanted sexual solicitations” (Online Victimization of Youth) which basically means that while being on sites that they had business being on, ads and pop-ups that were not necessarily appropriate appeared on the screen. This is the case on many children sites, such as Nickelodeon.com or NickJr.com. These advertisement and pop-ups which are mostly about pornography and mortgage increase teenagers’ curiosity and lead them to explore those inappropriate sites.

All these contents in television, music, game, and internet, enhancing adolescents’ lust and injecting wrong perception of sex into teens affect the behavior of them and eventually lead to social catastrophe. A study manifests that “Teens who see and hear a lot about sex in the media may be more than twice as likely to have early sexual intercourse as those who are rarely exposed to sexual content…” and “…12 to 14-years old exposed to the most sexual content in movies, music m magazines, and on television were 2.2 times more likely to have had sexual intercourse when re-interviewed two years later than their peers who had a lighter sexual media diet.” (Lagorio) This has agitated the mindsets of young children, primarily in America.

Teen pregnancies over the past 10 years have been largely affected by the change in censorship in the media. As the amount of sexual content increased in the media, the amount of teen pregnancies or “children having children” has elevated proportionally. With the portrayal of teenagers having children in shows such as “The Secret Life of an American Teenager” in which the main character is a girl who is pregnant, the idea of teenage girls getting pregnant is becoming more accepted and more common. This girl carrying a child in the television show is only depicted as a fifteen years old, and although she is carrying a child she still maintains a child-like innocence herself, which emphasizes the fact that she is only a child carrying another chilled. This however, is not only the case in television shows. Many girls between the ages of 14 and 17 are turning out pregnant, although it is obvious that they aren’t capable of supporting a child on their own. Since the statistic of young girls having babies has skyrocketed, many public school systems have felt the need to add Daycare Units into the schools so that they can promote the teenage mothers staying in school, and having free care for their child while they continue to get an education.

This all comes back to the media, which is unmonitored for the most part, and promotes messages of sex, and becoming caught in a sensual moment, which would result in a lack of protection because of no preparation. When sex is illustrated in many television shows, they make it as though the couple has sex without needing protection such as condoms. All these uncensored information from the media bring out a huge social consequence in a long term.

The media, at large, does have an effect on the beliefs and behaviors of teenagers over a long period of time. In a society that limits access to sexual information, teenagers will look to the media for answers to their questions. More important, the media may have a strong effect on teens without their even being aware of it, especially those whose parents do not instill in them a strong sense of family values. Although many adolescents try to get answers from the media about sex, unfortunately the media answers to these questions are usually not the healthy or accurate answers. Hence, in order to prevent any further tragedy befalling to teenagers, immediate solution has to be made.

One of the possible solutions that would grant youth a healthier view of sex and sexuality is that widespread advertising of birth control in mainstream media. Advertising birth control represents one means of increasing teenagers’ access to it. Such advertising needs to address the risks of pregnancy, not merely the superficial difference that birth control pills can make. Unless new products such as the morning-after pill are widely advertised, teenagers will not know about them or use them. Comparative studies between the United States and Europe make it clear that “countries that promote the use of birth control via advertising, sex education classes, and programming are rewarded with lower rates of teen pregnancy.” (Strasburger 254), yet the media remain resistant. Given that eight studies now prove that making birth control available to teenagers does not increase the risk of early sexual intercourse, there is no longer any excuse to withhold access to it.

Like advertising birth control, second solution would be having a greater responsibility and accountability of mainstream media for producing healthy and accurate messages about sex and sexuality. Entertainment industry executives need to realize that, their product is educating American children and teenagers, since media have become one of the most important sources for sexual information for young people today. Besides reforming mainstream media, middle and high schools should not underestimate the sex education and inform students the fallacy in the media. This would be resulted in teenagers being less likely to overestimate sexual activity among their peers and more aware of the truth about sex and sexual imagery in the media.

Third key to protect teenagers from the unhealthy information from media is to execute more and better counter advertising. Only the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy has engaged in long term efforts to counterprogram through the media. Although no clear data exists about this organization’s success, several successful efforts involving counter advertising against tobacco and illicit drugs with teens as the target audience through the media have been demonstrated.

Fourth solution would be having a greater sensitivity of parents to the influence of the media on adolescents. Many parents often seem not to see the impact of media on their children and teenagers. The most important steps that parents can take are to set rules about TV viewing, monitor what shows are being watched, and keep TV sets out of the bedroom.

The last possible solution is to conduct better research on getting statistics on the effect of the media. Considerably more research needs to be funded, use a variety of methods and a variety of populations, and will need to take into account developmental, gender, and ethnic differences. School systems and parents need to grant access to researchers, and foundations need to fund such efforts. Foundations need to recognize media research as a new and much needed priority. Society needs to accept the fact that teenagers should be able to give consent for such research on their own and that parents can be informed about ongoing studies explaining the research.

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Although it is apparent that the media’s negative effect on teenagers is catastrophic, we can take these resolutions discussed above and make adolescents prepared for unhealthy information from the media and enlighten them that some of sex and sexuality expressed in the media are false.

Work Cited

Brown, jane, Steele, Jeanne, and Walsh-Childers, kim. Sexual teens, sexual media: investigating media’s influence on adolescent. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Eribaum Associates, Inc. Publishers

Bryant, Jennings, and Mary Oliver. Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. 3rd ed. New York, NY: Taylor&Francis, 2009.

Greenspan.Sam. “How the Silver Screen Affects Your Teen.” 2004, 10 Feb 2010

Hart, Eileen. “Teens, Sex, and Media.” 2002, 15 Jan 2010

Lenhart, Amanda. “Teens and Social Media.” 19 Dec 2007 Internet&American Life Project. 17 Feb 2009

Lagorio, Christine. “Media May Promt Teen Sex.” 03 Apr 2006 17, Feb 2009

McEntrie, Teresa. “The Prevalence And Effects of Sex In The Media.” 2002

Strasburger, victor. Children, Adolescents, and the Media. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, inc, 2009.


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