Counter Media Messages on Sex
On television, in music videos, on the Internet, and in movies, explicit sexual content is everywhere—and children are often prime targets.

More than half of all television programming contains sexual themes. Typical American teens spend an average of seven hours a day watching TV and using various other entertainment media (including cell phones, computers, and iPods). So it’s no surprise that kids are exposed to thousands of sexual references a year.

“Studies published within the last five years demonstrate that, when examined over time, exposure to sexual content in TV and other forms of media in early adolescence—especially for Caucasian teens—can as much as double the risk for the early initiation of sexual activity,” states Rollyn Ornstein, M.D., adolescent medicine specialist with Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital. “Adolescents whose parents limit their TV viewing are less likely to have early sex.”

Casual sex isn’t just a consistent topic in the media; it’s also glamorized and made to appear to be the norm. You’ll find scant mention of the possible negative consequences, such as unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

It may be impossible to totally shield children from unrealistic sexual messages. Still, the American Academy of Pediatrics says, you can counteract the barrage. By consistently sharing your beliefs about respect, love, and healthy sexual choices, you become a strong role model for positive behavior. You can influence children to think critically about the images they encounter.

Managing the Message
To maintain healthy media habits in your home:

  • Start early. Don’t wait until children become teens to address sexual themes in the media. Talk with your kids when they’re young.
  • Set limits. Just as you restrict the number of snacks children eat, control the amount of time they spend with media. Make a schedule so kids know how long they can watch TV, view DVDs, use the Internet, and so on.
  • Increase your “media literacy.” Get acquainted with your children’s favorite media. Review the appropriateness of shows, games, magazines, and songs your kids enjoy. Visit social networking sites such as Facebook. Check your child’s personal page for suitable content and photos.
  • Grab a “teaching moment.” When children watch a show, take the opportunity to applaud positive behavior on screen. Start discussions about human sexuality and stable relationships.
  • Watch with your children. To monitor kids’ viewing choices, keep electronic media out of children’s bedrooms. Keep it in a central area of your home.
  • Set a good example. Parents shouldn’t be watching programs or visiting websites that give the wrong message to their children.