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Media's Nasty Impact on Youth

8/20/2006 - 6:00 AM PST

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Themes of Sex and Violence Take Their Toll

CHICAGO, AUG. 20, 2006 (Zenit) - Recent studies confirm long-standing concerns about how the media influence children and adolescents. The Aug. 2 issue of the journal Pediatrics, published by the Illinois-based American Academy of Pediatrics, contained two articles on the topic.

One of them, entitled "Exposure to Degrading Versus Nondegrading Music Lyrics and Sexual Behavior Among Youth," was based on telephone interviews with 1,461 teens aged 12 to 17. The group was interviewed three times: in 2001, 2002 and 2004. The average youth, according to the article, listens to music 1.5 to 2.5 hours per day, not counting music videos. Sexual themes are common in much of this music and range from romantic and playful to degrading and hostile.

The authors started by observing that there is strong theoretical justification for the notion that listening to sexual lyrics may influence adolescents' sexual behavior. Their study confirmed the theory, finding that "Teens who spent more time listening to music were more likely than those who spent less to initiate intercourse."

The article did point out that the correlation between the two factors is not definitive proof of a causal relationship. Nevertheless, the results showed that the more teens listened to degrading sexual music content, the more likely they were to subsequently initiate intercourse. By contrast, exposure to non-degrading sexual music did not lead to changes in sexual behavior.

"Reducing the amount of degrading sexual content in popular music or reducing young people's exposure to music with this type of content could help delay the onset of sexual behavior," concluded the article.

A second study, "The Relationship Between Watching Professional Wrestling on Television and Engaging in Date Fighting Among High School Students," examined the question of violence.

The study, based on a random sample of 2,485 students from North Carolina, found that there were significant correlations between frequency of watching wrestling on television during the previous two weeks and engaging in date fighting, fighting in general, and weapon carrying for both males and females. The relationship between viewing wrestling and violent behavior was stronger among females than among males.

The authors commented that there are many factors associated with the use of violence among adolescents. Yet they added that "numerous studies have revealed a consistent association between adolescents' exposure to violence and victimization and their risk of carrying weapons, having attitudes accepting the use of violence or aggressive behaviors to resolve conflict or achieve goals, and actually using violence."

The article concluded by recommending: "Reducing children's and adolescents' exposure to violence from media sources should be an important component of any violence-prevention strategy."

Links with aggression

Violence and the media was the subject of an almost 500-page collection of articles published last December. One of the chapters in the "Handbook of Children, Culture, and Violence" (Sage Publications) looked at violent music and youth.

The authors, Barbara Wilson and Nicole Martins, noted that genres such as gangsta rap contain high levels of violence, and that a significant number of music videos also feature frequent acts of violence.

They observe that several studies found a relationship between preference for violent music and aggressive behavior. In relation to the question of causality, controlled studies on college-age students show that listening to violent music encourages violent thoughts.

The number of studies is limited, however, and Wilson and Martins conclude that "a modest amount of evidence links exposure to violent music with aggression." In addition, some studies point to negative effects related to depression, risk taking and racial stereotyping.

Another chapter in the book deals with TV violence. There, Dale Kunkel and Lara Zwarun state: "It is well established by a compelling body of scientific evidence that television violence is harmful to children."

The harmful effects include: the learning of aggressive behaviors; desensitization toward victims of violence; and increased fear of being victimized by violence. The article notes that literally hundreds of studies support the conclusion that viewing televised violence leads to increases in subsequent aggression.

The chances of encountering violent content on TV are high. One three-year study found that 60% of all shows sampled contained some form of violence. Moreover, much of the violence appears "sanitized" and fails to show realistic harm to victims. In addition, often the violence is committed by attractive characters who suffer no remorse or criticism for their ...

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