Dr. Shapiro completed his undergraduate education at UC San Diego, earning a B.S. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology, and a B.A. in Political Science. He furthered his education at UCLA where he earned a Masters Degree in Public…
Sex and Television: The Impact on Our Children
Posted in Anxiety Disorde... by Dr. Jeremy F. Shapiro on Nov 15, 2008

Although I believe much of our parenting skills evolve from having some good ‘ol common sense, the scientist in me certainly appreciates finding solid research to justify what many (including myself) may feel to be quite obvious.  Therefore, I find some consolation in reporting the findings from a research study just published in the journal Pediatrics which validates concerns surrounding teenagers being exposed to explicit sexual contact on television.

In a study initially with over 2000 teenagers completing a baseline interview, researchers re-interviewed over 70% of this population 3 years later to assess the degree of exposure to sexual content on television and determine if any correlation with teen pregnancy existed.  And, well, the findings were probably as you might expect.  Those teens who were exposed to higher levels of sexual content on the television (90th percentile) were two times more likely to be involved in a teen pregnancy than those in the 10th percentile.

Now before responding angrily at where the direction of this may be going, I want it to be clear I have cared for many children of outstanding teen parents.  I have witnessed exceptional parenting instincts and beautifully developing children.  But unfortunately, this is not always the case as I share with you some details surrounding those involved in teen pregnancies:

  • Young mothers are more often likely to drop out of school and need some type of public assistance.

  • Young fathers often began working at a younger age, and consequently, earn less than their peers.

  • The children born to adolescent parents are at greater risk of low birth weight, have developmental delays, and, of interest, likely to drop out of high school years down the road.

I cannot change these facts.  And again, this is not a condemnation of teen pregnancies (please reread my words above) but hopefully just a reality check to what is probably occurring in the lives of our adolescents.  And what can be done?   Well, it may be just pure optimism but something I always express and stress with the tweens, teens, and their parents in my your best in maintaining an open dialogue with each other...we all may be better served when doing so.


Dr. Jeremy

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There are many things that promote sexual behavior to young people. One in particular being the television. Nine out of ten commercials seem to have some sort of sexual content in them, and same goes with the shows that are on too. Kids are getting introduced to this sexual behavior through the television instead of their parents, and it is down right disturbing. People should be ashamed at what they promote all over the television world. It is wrong and it is sending the wrong message to a lot of people. So if you are in that industry; the world can be changed one person at a time. it's your chance to make a difference. Help the world become a better and more safe place for our children.
By Hergenreter  Aug 09, 2009
Television is so awful, and kids watch so much of it, that it's not surprising that there's been much sociological research on its effects. Most of the studies, though, suffer from the third-factor effect - yes, kids who watch a lot of TV tend to be more aggressive, but could a third factor explain both behaviors? Kids with lower IQ scores also tend to watch more TV and be more violent, as do kids from poorer families. The correlations between heavy TV watching and other behaviors could be merely effects from common causes. Most parents would undoubtedly give an instant payday loan to anyone who can figure out how to get the kids to watch less">TV.
By NicolasL  Apr 02, 2009
TV and the media is a big part of our world now. I understand that when some of these comment-posters were younger, TV wasn't everywhere and wasn't considered a "sin." Now, there's no turning back time. We can't take away TV and the media and the messages they both portray. We can only learn to explain things to our children and be there for them. Although I'm not a parent yet, I will say I think the stupidest thing a parent can do to "protect" their child is to shield them from the real world. Much like book banning, banning them from TV and media will only make them rebel in the end. I'm not saying you should expose your child to EVERY TV show or media outlet, but you should make sure you are there to explain things to them so they dont get the wrong idea. Parent influence is huge. Just like abstinence-only sex education results in more STDs and unplanned pregnancies, banning or not allowing TV exposure will have the same effect. Children need to learn and experience things, not be shielded from them. If a parent takes time to explain sex education and programs on TV (age-appropriate TV shows), the child will be more likely to practice safe sex.
By mstrombe  Dec 04, 2008
TV leads to teen pregnancy? I love car chases but you don't see me running from the police. What leads to teen pregnancy is hormones and an unwillingness of teen boys to wear protection and parent or parents from taking their girls for birth control and insisting on condoms.

I tought my boys never believe you are the first, and to protect your lives by wearing condoms. They were 13 each when they got a 6 pack and the speech. I told them no questions asked, let us know if you need more.

To date now 16 years later for the oldest. No children and no AIDS or other STD's in our family.

Parents need to speak to their children openly and not judgmentally and the teen pregnancy rate will go down.

This does not count for the welfare mentality that prevails in some parts of the country, whether it be in West Virginia or Compton it doesn't matter. I have seen men of working age and good health standing outside of the social services office waiting for their babies mama to come out with food stamps and EBT cash payments. Work, they would have to pay it back! My neighbor actually said this to me.
By callmeouch  Nov 24, 2008
It all boils down to the parents. I understand the facts but it is just a cycle that needs to broken. Parents do not know how to parent anymore. When you have kids having babies that weren't raised to have respect for there elders or themselves, not forced to go to school and get an education, has had no strong role model in the home and just raising them selves. This is what you get . You start parenting when they are babies not when they are 12 and telling you what they are going to do and not do. When they are little and asking you all kinds of questions like " mommy why cant we watch Wizards of Waverly place?" Because you are too young, that show is for teenagers and you are not a teenager yet." They may go over to a friends house and there mom may let them watch it but I bet you this my, kid will tell that parent or that kid " My mom don't want us watching this because she said it is for teenagers" and she will come home and tell me. Talk to them when they are young but also don't feel you need to explain everything because a child should stay in a child's place. Parenting is a 24/7 job and we must stay on our kids. They are not your friends you are there parents you take care of them they don't take care of you. Lets just step up and do what we have to do and that is just be parents. So what if they don't like you today, they will get over it. That is your house your TV your computer. If you don't want them to watch it tell them to turn the channel or if you feel like discussing with them the show then go for it. If you feel they will just seen it anyway and just say to heck with it then you need to change your way of thinking. Don't let no kid outsmart you. You are the mom you are the dad you run your house. Also these kids today have too many electronics its just not the TVs and internet we have to worry about. Check the cell phones.
By koolaidsmile  Nov 23, 2008
that is not what I said at all. I said that when they ask we need to be prepared to explain it. They learn it everywhere not just on tv. I have two teens and a 10 year old, I have a baby brother and sister and it was the same with them. We can not be afraid to live in the world that is today not how it was in the past. Maybe I am just more openminded then most I guess.
By catzeyez  Nov 19, 2008
Yes, it is everywhere, catzeyez. However, this article speaks specifically about its influence from tv. There is a whole lot more on the tv (and everywhere else) than there used to be. The problem isn't that the parents can't and don't teach the kids, it's that the kids are seeing it waaaaay too early. Should I have explained sex to my child at 2-years old? That pretty poor judgment. Our kids are exposed long before they are ready and can have a good understanding of it all. That is the point that many of us are trying to make.

Give you an example: My daughter is 8, she is already doing algebra- true solving for variables algebra. I learned it a couple of years later than she did (and I was in advanced classes), at the time I learned it I also knew several other math concepts and had mastered addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. So, when I go to explain things to her (she has not had time to master all the basics, yet, BUT is smart enough to understand the more complex algebra) I have to scale back. She does not fully understand the concepts of the basics, but has already been exposed and has some knowledge of the more complex. I can backtrack and try to get her up to speed on the small things, but if she were to have had the time to learn those things first, teaching her the new stuff would be much easier.

How does this relate? We, parents, should have the childhood years to be able to teach our children about their own bodies and how they work. After we get that down, then we should be able to teach them how they interact with others. We shouldn't be forced to make them learn it all at once.
By kandyland2001  Nov 18, 2008
I have to say in this day and age I am suprised to read most of these comments. Wake up to reality, sex is everywhere NOT just on TV! I must be the oddball parent here. I do not lie to my girls if they ask me something I tell them. They asked me about a condem I bought one and showed them. TV is not the problem the parents that do not have the common sense to answer their kids questions truthfully is the problem. If parents taught their kids the truth before they saw it on TV they might understand instead of guessing.
I had my 1st child by the age of 18 and I did go to college and I do have a great job make the same if not more then others with more education then I have. It is not in what the TV says or shows it is in what the parent lacks the courage to explain or just does not want to explain.
By catzeyez  Nov 18, 2008
Those that see nothing wrong with teens having sex (with protection), should consider this- it doesn't always work.

This is my belief- if you absolutely don't want to have kids- or don't want children with a particular person- then you shouldn't have sex [or sex with that person]. Pregnancy IS a risk regardless of precautions. Imagine how many abortions would be avoided if people thought each time they had sex that they just might get pregnant.

Not to mention diseases. Young adults and teens have the highest rates of nearly all STIs. If the condom fails, are you prepared to live with herpes, hepatitis, HIV/AIDs? Do you really want to undergo treatment for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis (which will still show up in your blood, even after treatment)? Are you really prepared to go tell anyone else you slept with that you are infected with this?

Those are the realities of sex, protected or not. We need to stop being irresponsible thrill seekers, and realize that there are consequences for every action. Just because they're doing this or that on tv, or because it's fun, or it feels good- does not give us the right to not be responsible. "For every action, there is a reaction." We should stop acting as if they don't exist.

(I am very adamant about this because I have a young cousin- technically 15 years old, but mentally and developmentally maybe 10- that is due any day now. Her body can have sex, it can reproduce, but her mind, her finances, her developmental status- should not allow her to have a child at this time. She was in love with the father, they are still together, and he’s over 18. I feel as though he preyed on her considering, intellectually, she is nowhere near the same age. As proof, she just left middle school based on “No child left behind,” although she does not have basic math skills, reads at a grade school level, and cannot spell. Even for those teens that have the skills they should, this possibility is too much of a risk to allow for them to be sexually active.)

Another footnote: I was somewhat a teenager when my child was born (three weeks from turning 20) and yes, I still made it through college, successfully, got a job, etc… But how much easier it would have been if I waited!
By kandyland2001  Nov 17, 2008
TV has become a beacon of sin. When I was a little kid (not too long ago), the only "B" word used on network tv was bastard and it was jaw dropping at the time. "Sex scenes" involved two people kissing then turning off the lights- your imagination could feel in the blanks. Homosexuality was not a staple of each show- now, there has to be at least one couple on each show. And we wonder why our children are sexually active earlier, why so many are "coming out of the closet," (that many of us didn't know existed until we were grown), and why morals are so low. I don't believe that reversing the televisions trends is even possible, but I think networks and producers should be more responsible as to when they air certain content. It is hard to censor what your 5 year old is watching when, during his favorite cartoon, commercials for Jerry Springer and Girls Gone Wild are running. It's as if the executives want to corrupt the minds of our kids. If they control their minds, by sensationalism, now, they can sell them on anything later.
By kandyland2001  Nov 17, 2008
Humanrhapsody, Good question but since the outcome measure was pregnancy one would assume those who became pregnant were not using appropriate birth control measures (or something failed).

Jules, you can try accessing this article from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), but I think you may have to pay a fee to read it.

Dr. Jeremy
By DrJeremy  Nov 17, 2008
This might just be because I don't have a teen, but I don't see anything wrong with teens having sex, as long as it's with protection. Did this study include any coorelation with condom use or any other protection. Is sex on tv promoting sex in general or unsafe sex?
By humanrhapsody  Nov 17, 2008
It's good to have some statistics backing up what we all suspected ... Just helps reassure us that we are doing the right thing when we tell our children they can't go to a movie because it has sex scenes in it.I get a bit disappointed at the loose terminology/ratings of" sexual references" I have found that sometimes you actually see a whole lot more than just a verbal casual reference to sex..I am sure that watching anything that is really only meant to be witnessed by the two people actually involved in the act is damaging. I know my girls were awakened to the idea of open mouthed kissing through seeing it on tv and the sad thing is that once they'd seen it, it was too late and they kept kissing the air in a sensual manner.. how sad for me that their innocence was turned by something I'd let them see.. Life is not easy, we all wish to guard our kids from making decisions they'll later regret and tv doesn't make our job easy, in fact it makes it more difficult.. These days we don't watch much at all, there is so much garbage on the box..
By Katheikon  Nov 17, 2008
How is you the battle going? I hope your doing well. These trials are opportunities for us to live within the pages of the Bible. It can be an opportunity to help you grow leaps and bounds in your dependence on Him.

Thank you, Dr. Jeremy for having the bravery to speak out. TV seems to be a sacred cow in our society today-- at least sex and violence. "Don't ever think about criticizing TV it's the parents fault or the children's fault."

Why do we feel so threatened about examining TV and its influence on our children today? We feel safe to examine global warming consequences even though they hit close to home or examining the harmful effects of smoking on our teens.

We need to stop the criticism of healthy discussion on the influence of TV on our youth.
By besidestillwater  Nov 16, 2008
Well, there's a simple solution to the problem. Get rid of the television. Let the little devils get their sexual content from the internet, where the quality is much higher, anyway. Seriously, the only way to adddress the problem is an activist approach-i.e. talking to your children and giving them as much information as is appropriate(bearing in mind age, etc), and telling them in a matter of fact manner what the results of sexual activity are: STD's, unintended pregnancy, etc. Kids are going to encounter sexual content in a variety of media-that can't be stopped, but you can at least have a plan to deal with it.
By OttoYamamoto  Nov 16, 2008
I'm just an average "Joe". Are we suppose to feel sorry for the young mothers that drop out of school because they didn't know or have the brains to have safe sex?

What can be done? Instead of blaming TV/Society, rest the blame solely on the individuals concerned. Unless mentally retarded I don't get it.
Not sure what ages You are referring to, but say 15 and up, they know what they are doing. I'm sorry, but I feel nothing for them. Am also not saying "they" are bad people, just "very" irresponsible.

Just my 2cents.
By CynicFred47  Nov 16, 2008
Thank you, Dr Jeremy. Some interesting reading, for sure! I definitely hear what you are saying when it comes to having your personal 'common sense' beliefs vindicated by research. I personally think that television has a huge amount to answer for in terms of societal issues today, and it is a never-ending source of frustration for me that, for a lot of people and parents, T.V. is usually the last place they look. I was addicted to T.V. when I was a teenager, mainly as an escape from crippling depression and anxiety, as well as insomnia, but looking back now, I feel sure that it was detrimental to my general state of being at the time, not to mention a complete waste of time! But oh well, I just hope to be more alert to my own (future) children's needs. Thanks.
By the way, is it possible to view the research in full on the journal's website, or similar?
By JulesP  Nov 16, 2008
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