Lyndon B. Johnson said, “There are no problems we can not solve together, and very few we can solve ourselves.” Most parents in America worry that children and teens are portrayed in major sexual content in the media. If people pay more attention to the statistics of media exposure, the parents’ worry is understandable and should not be ignored. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “The average American adolescent views almost 14,000 sexual references a year, 75% of films involved sexual imagery, up to 75% of music videos contain sexually suggestive material and 70% of all programs on American television were found to contain sexual material.” Moreover, the US Today’s reporter Tom Reichert claims, “By the time a youngster turns 14, he or she has been exposed to more than 350,000 television commercials.” Through this uncontrolled stream of greater sexual content in television, music videos, and advertisements, youths accept these unrealistic, misleading, and unhealthy sexual messages, and which powerfully influences adolescents’ sexual behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes. In order to protect children and teens from the effects of media, parents, schools, and the government should take action.
The parents’ worry is reasonable since presence of explicit sexual content has increased and is easily found in youths’ popular television shows, music videos, and advertisements. In the second season of the television show Gossip Girls, while Dan is listening to music with his earphones on a bus, Serena starts to tease Dan by pulling off his earphone and giving him a magazine. Dan touches Serena’s hand when he receives the magazine. Then Serena takes out a box of chocolate covered strawberries and puts one in her mouth. When the camera zooms in to her face, she puts her finger inside her mouth licks it slowly and stares at Dan provocatively. They end up in the bus bathroom where Dan holds her thigh, and she strokes his face saying sorry. They are kissing inside the bus bathroom before Dan closes the bathroom door. This is one example of provocative content that is being aimed to teens through television. Furthermore, in Gossip Girls, the characters change their sexual companions often and have sexual relationships with different people at same time. This recurring theme also happens in Vampire Diaries and MTV’s 16 and Pregnant.
Moreover, music videos contain explicit sexual content that targets young people through popular singers. Lady GaGa, one of the most popular pop singers, was selected as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine in May 2010. Her music video “Bad Romance” on the Internet has been viewed two hundred millions of times. However, in her music videos, lots of sexual images, sexual words and promiscuities have been shown. In her music video “Television,” she is taken to the jail, her dress is taken off by the jail’s officer, and she is shown wears only a pair of stockings while lying on the jail’s bed. Also, in her the other music video “Love Game,” she is shown not only sitting between two men naked and displaying provocative sexual behaviors, but during the song, she is playing sexual games with several men. Lady GaGa not only wears barely anything in her music videos, but also on the street. She was photographed wearing a see through underwear and a bra underneath an open jacket in Stockholm, Sweden. Christina Aguilera is another popular singer whose music video “Dirty” has been watched twenty millions of times on the Internet. Same as Lady GaGa, Aguilera’s music videos also contain a lot of sexual behaviors. Music videos that “combines the energy of music with the power of visual images are a much greater impact because they are impossible to ignore” says Media Awareness Network. The visual images will come up to the mind with the song every time youths sing or listen to them.
In addition, fashion marketers use advertising which includes numerous suggestive sexual devices in the form of nudity, sexual situations and behavior to attract young adults to buy their products. In Steve Lopez’s article “A Scary Time to Raise a Daughter,” he writes about his trip to the Abercrombie & Fitch store at the Grove in the Fairfax District where the store’s walls were printed with nude young models. On the picture, “A naked girl is sandwiched by two boys, her breasts completely visible but for a bit of strategic air brushing. The three of them are holding a blanket over what appear to be nude lower bodies” (776). Fashion marketers like Calvin Klein or Abercrombie & Fitch target young groups with billboard advertisements showing teen models’ inappropriate provocative behavior. These ads “contain no ratings appearing” (Reichert) in the public building that are seen by audiences including young adults, teenagers, and children. “These ads are selling more than clothing to teens—they are also selling adult sexuality” (Mnet).
Sexually explicit material in mainstream media influences adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors, damages their physical and mental abilities, and causes health problems. According to Pediatrics, “61% of all high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, about half are currently sexually active, and 21% have had 4 or more partners.” Adolescents who watch large amounts of television containing sexual content are likely to be involved in early sexual intercourse. They are more accepting of sexual activity as fun and having multiple sexual companions (Jost 726).
In addition, adolescents’ early sexual intercourse creates social problems and damages their physical and mental abilities. “The United States has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in the world” (Pediatrics). Unfortunately, “35% of the fathers could not be found, and 60% of the fathers grew up in dysfunctional family” (Yahoo News TW). In the end, the young mother has to face the problems on her own. In “Is Sex All That Matters?” the social worker Garity writes about a young woman named Elaine who was influenced by the major media sexual images and never realized that those acts could leave her pregnant; she could not find the baby’s father because there had been multiple sex partners and no birth control. She had to live in a social worker’s spare room, depend on the government’s welfare to help, face the adoption of her baby, and swallow the pain alone (Garity 769).
Furthermore, early sexual intercourse carries the risk of having and spreading sexual disease. Pediatrics’ report shows, “Adolescents have the highest sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates including human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Approximately one fourth of sexually active adolescents become infected with an STD each year.” Most adolescents are having sexual intercourse without having any protection since they have not been given consequences from the media industry delivering romantic sexual images. Having unsafe sexual intercourse at an early age and suffering with sexual diseases for rest of their life is becoming American adolescents’ nightmare.
Instead of fearing the media’s powerful influence on children and teens, parents should spend time supervising and educating their children, encouraging schools to add media education programs, and persuading the government to develop more systems. It is important for parents to stay involved by knowing what kids are watching and listening to. When children are still young, parents have the right to ban inappropriate television shows at home. For young adults, parents could spend time to “teach their kids to think critically about what they see, [listen, and read] on the television [and] help adolescents to understand that the television shows, music videos, and advertisements are only a construction of reality, which has been created by producers, directors, actors, editors, advertisers and others to sell their products to viewers” (Mnet). Education starts at home, so parents should spend time to discuss with their children in order to clarify the unrealistic, unhealthy information that influences them.
Moreover, parents should encourage schools to provide programs like Internet and media safety education programs for children. “[Internet] is part of youth culture. This generation of young people is growing up with the Internet as a daily and routine part of their lives” (Mnet). Young people talk and share their information with friends on the Internet, watch programs, listen to music on the Internet, search for information, and check assignments from teachers with computers. They are living with the Internet. Unfortunately, this convenient tool contains dangerous content; students should learn ways to protect themselves. The other program that school can provide is “Add a media education component to their sex education program content” (Pediatricians). Today’s kids grow up in wealthier families with few siblings, and they have more “autonomy and decision-making power to buy what they want.” As a result, children and teens represent money. In order to lure them, the media use sexual attractiveness to sell products since teens are new to sex and are naturally curious. At UCLA the researchers found that “the impact of commercials can be very much affected by discussion and instruction.” After attending the developed media lessons at UCLA, the students found “advertised products less desirable, understood commercials better, and found them less credible” (Greenfield 52). A media education program combined with a sex education program will help youths understand the media’s strategies better and make wiser consumer decisions.
Additionally, parents could work with societies like pediatrician and disease centers to persuade the government to develop more controls systems. In 1997 Children’s advocates have won two hard battles to improve what kids watch on TV which require broadcasters to air at least thee hours of educational programming each week and use the ratings system on TV to help parents monitor their children’s viewing (Jost 721). Now parents can join parenting associations and work with societies like pediatricians and disease centers to persuade the government to develop more controls like asking the broadcast industry to “Increase the hour of education programs that present information on the use of methods to avoid unintended pregnancies and STDs and their consequences […] provide message on the public service to support and encourage the delay of first coitus […] support further research into the impact of sexual content in the media on children’s and adolescents’ knowledge and behavior.” (Pediatrics) Moreover, abandon marketers using teen models posing inappropriate sexual suggestive behaviors in public. With their efforts, parents could win some more battles for their children.
Finally, the vast amount of sexual content America’s children and teens view in the media influences adolescents’ attitudes and behaviors, damages their physical and mental abilities, causes their health problems, brings them into nightmares. Parents should spend time to show their advocacy, school should provide educational functions to improve students’ media literacy, and government should develop its power to encourage the media increase the hour of sexual education programs. Children represent the future of a country. America needs healthy and energetic young people. As the President Johnson said, if all society works together, there are no problems that can not be solved.