Teen Pregnancy Linked To Sexy TV Shows?

RAND Research has linked teen pregnancy to watching a lot of television. The study shows that the more sex (on TV) a teenager watches, the more likely it is for that teenager to get pregnant or impregnate.

That makes sense, right?

Here’s my problem with it. Could it be that the kids who are watching more television are getting pregnant because he or she spends less time with communicating with his or her parents? Could it be that parents who are more likely to plop their kid in front of the TV are less likely to communicate regularly with their children?

I always feel slightly irritated by how studies such as this one get reported (I haven’t read the study firsthand) because I think the report becomes an obstacle at getting to the heart of what the real problem may be.

Is it in fact true that children that watch racy TV shows are more likely to have sex, or could it be that children who watch a lot of TV are less likely to spend that time communicating with his or her family?

If the goal is to lessen the number of teen pregnancies in America, I think figuring out why it’s happening should become our top priority. And quite frankly, I’m not convinced that the problem has to do with what they’re watching and instead has to do with why.

But my opinion still isn’t quite ripe. I’m open to debate.

VIOLENCE AND TV (A late addition to this post.)

I’m about to admit to something that probably seems contradictory to the top half of this post and state that I do believe that watching violent TV shows (and playing violent video games) can lead to violent behavior. Perhaps I’m naive where sex is concerned? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I do not believe that humans are inherently violent—that violence (or lack of compassion) is a learned behavior. I do believe that humans are inherently sexual, however.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t feel that parents can do much to keep teenagers from being curious about (even craving) sex. I do think we can control how educated our children are regarding the topic. I have always thought that when it comes time, I would talk openly to my son about sex. I am not nearly as liberal when it comes to violence, however.

Obviously, my opinion on the matter is still morphing.


  1. I’ll be honest with you – there are a lot of touchy topics my teenage son and I would have never discussed were it NOT for those type of shows. We watch them together and then discuss a lot of the topics. He asks me questions about drugs and such because of those shows which opens up a lot of discussion about contraception/STDs/drugs/ etc. So, while he and I may be an exception to the rule, we kinda represent what you’re talking about. It’s all about how you talk to your kids, in my opinion. It’s easier for us to talk about the embarrassing stuff in the context of the shows…so I actually use them as a tool.

    Of course – that’s just ME. I do not ever claim to have all the answers.


  2. I think you ask very valid questions. Personally, I do think the content we watch impacts our belief about the world. There’s a slow, subtle change that happens when we see the same content over and over. It’s easy to begin believing that people on TV are like everyone else and therefore, you don’t need to be any different.

    When I watch a lot of TV or movies, I personally struggle with the belief that everyone is wealthier and has nicer stuff than me. This belief sneaks in when I’m not paying attention. And I consider myself a pretty media literate adult. If I find myself struggling with this, I suspect teenagers’ view (of sex) can be impacted by various media too.


  3. You know, the more I time I spend thinking about this, the more my mind changes regarding sex and television.

    I know of a few people who spend far too much time online (reading blogs, refreshing twitter, whatever) and it absolutely affects how they live their (real, everyday) lives. I have seen people become paranoid without reason, depressed, anxious, etc.

    I guess what I’m saying is anything in excess does seem to affect people. So, yeah. Maybe I am just looking at this as someone who HOPES to have her son doing extracurricular activist on top of watching TV or whatever. I am not going to pretend that I’ll be able to keep Em from playing video games or watching questionable material on TV, but I will do everything in my power to make sure he does other stuff (preferably outside) as well.

    I also hope that he can talk to me or his father should he have questions.

    For what it’s worth, my mind is changing as the day goes on. But I still think that families should spend more time together. I hope we can do that someday as well.


  4. All forms of storytelling influence our state of mind, our understanding of the world. Some provide strengths in certain visceral areas, and others in imaginative areas. None are clearly better or worse as far as communication.

    As we experience stories, we empathize or sympathize (depending on the particular narrative and medium) with characters. That means we “walk a mile in [their] shoes” for a little while.

    That doesn’t lead directly to mimicry, to apathy, to changing any sorts of beliefs. It simply builds empathy.

    In some cases, that empathy leads some individuals to less-than-stellar mindsets. Empathizing positively with Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver might lead someone to enter a more aggressive, righteous state of mind to some degree. Conversely, it might lead another person to react against righteous violence.

    The variability is with the audience member. If Taxi Driver gives me a big adrenaline rush and I’m the type of person who, for any number of reasons, has tendencies towards replicating that rush, I might find ways.

    Others might feel sickened by the adrenaline and try to avoid those situations.

    The same person might react differently at different points in their life.

    When I was really young, I used to love horror movies, and would trick myself into being scared of things when taking the trash out at night. It let me get control of the adrenaline that was already a part of my every day life due to a very bad home environment.

    These days, I can’t stand horror flicks. I don’t like those feelings. I’ve moved on, come to understand them (down to the chemistry).

    The point is, you need not worry about stories – but rather need to focus on context, on understanding, and on the overall health of each audience member.

    Stories come and go and certainly, it’s worth paying attention to trends and balances and dogma and manipulation. Ultimately, though, we, as bags of meat, are where the focus should be.

    Help create the child who is averse to violence, and their experiencing violent stories will likely strengthen their aversion.

    Help create a child who understands the importance and awesomeness and risk and occasional awkwardness of sexuality and exposure to irresponsible characters will likely make them feel ill towards irresponsibility.

    There are no guarantees, but as long as we’re there to help with multiple viewpoints, we keep them each grounded in the pragmatic belief that they must choose their own path no matter whose fictional shoes they’ve spent time in.

    Of course, some folks are just fucked in the head and will end up killing you in your sleep no matter what.


  5. I hope my comment didn’t come out sounding like I let my son watch a lot of TV. Mainly it’s just a few primetime shows…he’s a HUGE reader (like me) so we’re more into books as a family. He recommends some to me and I to him, but I did want to point out that some of those Teenage shows help open up the channels of conversation and make it a little easier to discuss things.


  6. Zoot: I knew exactly what you meant and I wouldn’t judge you even if you were letting your son watch TV. Goodness knows, our boy watches TV. Don’t you worry.


  7. Michele, it’s funny, I had exactly the same thought as you when I read about that study this morning in the paper. What about other factors???

    I think the study has a valid point, but the causal relationship is a bit weak. If violent TV leads to violent behaviour, as violence becomes more normal in one’s mind, why can’t tv shows focussing on sex lead to more sex? I’m not sure about the pregnancy link though.

    It’s scary to read what I just wrote, realizing that I have a young son, and hoping he never gets anyone pregnant accidently (when he’s older of course, 2 is a bit young!).

    I guess we just have to counteract the media with frequent discussions based upon our beliefs, much as stated so well above by Zoot.


  8. I’m liberal when it comes to sex and my son as well. I think parents have a huge impact on teen pregnancies. I’m all for a trip to planned parenthood, condoms available in home, and my husband providing our boy with “materials” so he doesn’t have to feel ashamed and hide them under his mattress. Some teens are going to have sex. Now we just need to encourage them to have SAFE sex.

    As far as violence, I think it helps when parents teach their children from a very young age that violence is not acceptable and show their children other ways of dealing with their emotions, like talking!


  9. Autumn: Amen. I know that TJ will be an excellent educator when it comes to teaching Em about sex. If there’s one thing TJ seems to have a firm grasp on (and I don’t mean it jokingly) it’s sex. He doesn’t find it shameful and I think will do an excellent job at making Em feel OK about it as well.

    Me? I grew up catholic. ‘nuff said.


  10. I don’t know. I’m inclined to agree with you about the sex and am 100% in agreeement about the violence. I still think, though, that there’s something to be said for being open about sex through discussion without having to actually view explicit (for television) sex scenes. I don’t know. I’m undecided, I guess.


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