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Study Links TV, Teen Pregnancy

November 4, 2008

A study that links sexual content on television with increased teenage pregnancy shows TV can have a profound influence on the behavior and self-image of kids, according to a Minnesota teen advocate. Brigid Riley with the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Prevention and Parenting says it's a "call to action" for parents to pay attention to what their young people are watching.

"Without some follow-up from parents, without quality discussions, teenagers don't have any way to process this in a very responsible way."

She adds teens must understand that most of the entertainment programming on TV is fiction and has little relationship to their lives or to reality. The Rand Corporation study found kids who viewed the steamy content were twice as likely to either get pregnant or get a partner pregnant as those who weren't tuned in.

The report, she continues, also has a message for the people who make and present the TV shows.

"It is important to include some context about consequences, about prevention, about the kinds of relationships in which sexual behavior is taking place."

She says kids are exposed to an average of l14,000 TV sexual references and innuendos a year, and that has a huge influence on developing personalities. A big problem, according to Riley, is that the programs seldom show the risks of sex or the consequences of pregnancy.

The ideal solution, Riley concludes, is limiting children's exposure to shows with sexual content. But, she acknowledges, that's probably unrealistic. So, parents should watch with their kids and talk with them about the reality of the plot.

"Teenagers tell us that they're really hungry for quality conversations about sexual behavior, about relationships. They want to understand the implications of adult relationships."

The Rand study tracked 2000 young people aged 12 to 17, who watched any of 23 popular TV shows with adult themes for three years.

Details of the report are online at www.rand.org/health

Jim Wishner, Public News Service - MN