A Loss of Innocence

By | March 7th, 2014 | Issues, Magazine, Sex, Upfront

Sexual media affects children’s development and perceptions

“The shows most watched by adolescents in 2001-2002 had ‘unusually high’ amounts of sexual content compared with TV as a whole: 83 percent of programs popular with teens had sexual content, and 20 percent contained explicit or implicit intercourse,” at least according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s study on Sexual Content on Television. The Kaiser Family Foundation is an organization founded with the mission of providing quality information to the public. The foundation’s study, titled: Family Hour: Sex, Kids and the Family Hour; A Three-Part Study of Sexual Content on Television, attempts to answer the question of the media’s role in child psychological development.

Along with an ‘unusually high’ exposure to sexual content, the Foundation’s study also concluded that teens that watched a considerable amount of sexual content on television behaved sexually older, as if they were aged 9 to 17 months older than children who watch less television content. The foundation’s study concluded that “the studies reveal that there is an abundance of sexual content on television shows… the focus group reported on here indicate that children appear to be picking up the sexual information presented to them on television- taking away confused messages.”

Jamie Thomas, eighth-year principal of the local Lansing Middle School, suggested that problems with the media stem from a lack of awareness on the part of parents. Children are using new technology or websites to access material behind their parent’s backs. “A great deal of the influence media has on our children happens in the absence of adult supervision,” Thomas said. The current generation of parents grew up before the wave of the Internet. Children are growing up with an inherent technological savvyness. Poor parent education on media technologies leaves adults unaware of the underlying problem while the new tech savvy generation seemingly creates troubling fads faster than the past problems can be solved. Unintended confrontations arise when children access content that is unauthorized by parents. These confrontations are left unmediated in the absence of parental awareness when children and parents fail to communicate, Thomas said.

Cyndy Scheibe, a professor of developmental psychology at Ithaca College and the founder and executive director of Project Look Sharp, a project that studies and compiles media literacy materials, said violence and sex in the media are tied. There is a link in our country between sex and violence, both of which sell. “They are doing it because it’s a market,” Scheibe said.

The media sensationalizes sex and violence as a result of our history. Scheibe said that our birth as a nation and its’ violent nature forever connected American culture and violence. America’s societal connection between violence and sex attaches the negative emotions of violence to sexual culture. She said the best way to solve violence and sex in the media is to change the way we present it, and suggested American media should remove gratuitous violence from the equation, in exchange for sexual content with positive emotions. Rather than lesson-less sexual messages the media should present stories of love and learning.

Jennifer Kadlecik is a 2nd Grade teacher at local R.C. Buckley Elementary School, and mother of 12-year-old Grace and nine-year-old Michael. Kadlecik said she too is worried about the effects media has on children. When asked if there is an abundance of inappropriate content in the media, Kadlecik said: “Yes! Just last night I was watching TV with [my husband] Jeff and a bra commercial comes on. He says ‘oh my god, can you believe they are showing this?’” Kadlecik responded to the problems she sees in the media by monitoring what her kids can access. Grace and Michael are given a predetermined set of channels they are able to watch on TV, and a limited amount of time. Their iPad is similarly censored, with pre-downloaded apps that either Kadlecik or her husband has checked. The biggest tool used by Kadlecik is time. She keeps her children constantly busy with activities outside the media sphere:
“during the week Grace and Michael probably watch about a half hour of TV a night, and during the weekend about an hour.” This level of exposure contradicts the national average according to the Kaiser Foundation, which found that children watched almost 25 hours of televised content per week. Kadlecik said that she will continue to monitor what her children view and push for conversation to explain what Grace and Michael are inevitably exposed to.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said limited exposure is the best tool for parents: “Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content.” The academy believes that by offering alternatives to common media outlets, such as books, parents can guide their children’s media experience.

Jacob Ryan is a sophomore history major who thinks MTV needs to chill out on their sexual content. Email him at jryan3@ithaca.edu.

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