Raising Sexually Healthy Kids: Media Messages

Every day we’re bombarded with conflicting and enticing media messages designed to catch our attention and sell products. Few movies or TV programs - even those in the "family" category - are free of sexual overtones.

Study after study shows that exposure to sexual content in the media influences children’s sexual beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. How can you protect your kids?


Sex in the Media

Sex on TV and in Music

  • Studies of adolescents show that frequent television viewing can lead to negative attitudes toward virginity. There’s a definite correlation between watching too much television and early initiation of sexual intercourse.*
  • Sex on TV - a study released in 2001 by the Kaiser Family Foundation - found that the number of programs with sexual content increased from about 50% of all shows in the 1997/98 television season to 66% in the 1999/2000 season.
  • Today’s popular music and music videos also feature more sexually explicit images. Sexual references have become more direct, and the lyrics used to describe sexual behavior have become more graphic.

Sex on the Internet

  • The Internet offers easy access to hardcore pornographic websites.
  • Sexual predators solicit children in Internet chat rooms.
  • A recent survey found that:
    • One in four children ages 10 to 17 years had unintentionally encountered explicit sexual content.
    • One in five children had been exposed to unwanted sexual solicitation while online.*


Protecting Your Kids

In her book, "Can't Buy Me Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel," Dr. Jean Kilbourne, a research scholar at the Wellesley College Centers for Women writes,

"Children are sexual beings. But in an ideal world they grow into their sexuality gradually, and in an age-appropriate way. Now, there is so much pressure on them at a young age to model an adult version of sex that is way beyond their comprehension."

It’s up to you to protect your children from the media’s impact.

You can make a difference in the way media impacts your kids by limiting, supervising, and sharing media experiences with your children. With your guidance they’ll learn to interpret media messages rather than simply accepting the message without thinking about it first.


General Guidelines

Most media use takes place in the home. You can reduce the media’s effect on your children’s attitudes and beliefs by:

  • Keeping TV sets, DVD players, video games, and computers out of your children's bedrooms. Instead, put them where you can be involved and monitor children's use.
  • Making media a family activity. Take an active role in your children’s media experiences and discuss what they see, hear and read. By sharing your children's media experiences, you can help them analyze, question, and challenge the meaning of messages.
  • "Talking back" or asking questions about media messages. Discuss how the media messages compare to your values. Listen to your children's reasons for wanting a certain product or watching a certain show, then talk with them about why you think it’s inappropriate.
  • Establishing a media plan. Schedule media times and choices in advance and limit your children's total screen time. This includes time spent on the Internet, watching TV and DVDs and playing video and computer games.
  • Setting family guidelines for media content. Encourage your children and teens to choose shows, videos, and electronic games that are appropriate for their ages and interests. 
  • Checking content ratings and parental advisories to help you:
    • Assess violence, sex, language, and "adult" material.
    • Decide which programs, websites or electronic games are appropriate for your child.

Internet Guidelines

Your children are "clicks" away from being exploited by advertisers and exposed to violence, sex, adult language and substance use. You can safeguard them by:

  • Using Internet-blocking programs.
  • Spending time with your children on the Internet to see where they go and who they "talk" to on-line.
  • Making it a rule to never give out personal information online. Tell your child to never reveal his or her:
    • name
    • address
    • phone number
    • school name or location
    • facts about parents and siblings
    • favorite products

Activities for Media-Interpretation Skills

Help your children interpret the sexual messages they see and hear by:

  • Comparing what you see on screen or in magazines to what happens in real life. For example, do women really wear their shirts unbuttoned with no bra and their cleavage and belly-buttons exposed? Do the people we see on television shows look and behave like the people we see everyday?
  • Watching a music video with your children. Record a popular music video, then play it back for your kids. As you’re watching, ask them:
    • What stories do the pictures tell?
    • Does the story on screen match the meaning of the words in the song?
    • How does the video make you feel?
    • If there are any stereotypical, violent, or sexual images in the video.

    Now replay the video with the sound off and ask your children how it's different.


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