The Toxic Tube Made Them Do It

The new version of 90210, CW network's much anticipated teen drama, debuted this fall with a scene of a young man receiving oral sex while parked in a school parking lot.

Gossip Girl, another CW teen drama, featured a November 3 storyline in which a 15-year old girl explicitly states that her goal is to lose her virginity.

Welcome to teen-targeted television.  Did you know that a recent study published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Pediatric Association, points to a strong link between these types of shows and teen pregnancy?

Released on the same day that the above-mentioned Gossip Girl episode aired, the research was spotlighted in several national news programs on CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC.  Dr. Nancy Snyderman noted on NBC's Today  that 80% of entertainment programs targeting teens contain sexual themes.

Take a minute and consider that stat.  Eighty percent. Now, before you start talking about the V-chip or other blockers that supposedly protect kids from inappropriate TV content, consider another fact: Kids today watch TV via the Internet – on their computers or iPods – more than they watch it on that hi-def screen in the family room. 

This is why a longitudinal study – one done over several years with the same group of kids – showing a direct link between TV with sexual content and rates of teen pregnancy is profoundly important.

Another important study in that same issue of Pediatrics, and which got little media attention, showed a strong correlation between children and teens who play violent video games and increased aggression and hostility even months later.  We're talking games like Assassin's Creed, in which an attacker plunges a knife into his victim's back several times, Manhunt 2, which shows a man taunting a prisoner by urinating into the man's jail cell, and The Darkness, which graphically depicts a victim's body riddled with gunfire as blood spurts across the screen.

But these games are rated M, you say.  They're not supposed to be played by kids under 17.  Think again.  The National Institute on Media and the Family reports that nearly half of kids between 8 and 12 are playing M-rated games.

Kids today spend more time with media than they do anything else except sleep, according to a 2005 report by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Consider this snapshot:

    83 percent of children under 6 years old use some form of screen media, spending 2 hours a day with a television and DVD player, 1 hour with video games, and 50 minutes with a computer.. They watch 4,000 hours of TV before they enter kindergarten. They are exposed to 20 to 25 acts of violence per hour on Saturday morning TV programs intended for children. Older children spend an average 6.5 hours a day with some form of media and typically use more than one type of media at a time (for example listening to music while searching the Internet) which becomes the equivalent of 8.5 hours of media consumption a day. Youth spend almost 4 hours a day watching TV, 1.75 hours per day listening to music, and 1 hour on the computer for things other than homework. Sexual themes dominate Top 20 music lyrics. The amounts of sex, violence and profanity on prime time television have increased dramatically in the last 10 years. 90 percent of homes in America have video gaming systems. Time spent playing video games has tripled since the 1980s to 13 hours per week, with boys averaging 16-18 hours per week. Six prominent medical groups warn that media violence affects children.

The two latest studies in Pediatrics add considerable altitude to the mountain of evidence  about media's effects on behavior.  Kids themselves know it.  On CBS's Early Show on November 4, Briana Romero, a teen mother, emphatically told reporter Sandra Hughes, “You know, on TV they're always showing girls, like, want to be sexy and you know.  I mean, anything you see on TV, you know, everybody's going to want to follow.  So I think it does lead to teen pregnancy.”

From the mouths of babes — who are also moms.

While it's unrealistic to think today's kids can succeed in a media-free environment,  every parent in America should consider pulling the plug on the electronic babysitter. She really is a bad influence. 

Kristen Fyfe is Senior Writer for the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.