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Keeping a Lid on Permissiveness

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By Sally Connolly

Although television programs are aired without warning labels, watching TV can have unwanted consequences for the behavior of teenagers.

Surprise. Surprise. Watching TV can have serious consequences for behavior. So says a three-year study of youngsters between the ages of 12 and 17.

The RAND Corporation study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, found a high rate of unwanted pregnancies among teenagers who watched the most TV programs with sexual content. Teenagers who had with the greatest exposure were twice as likely to get pregnant.

The study went on to point out that the United States has "one of the highest teen pregnancy rates among industrialized nations. Nearly 1 million young women become pregnant each year, with the majority of these pregnancies unplanned. Research has shown that young mothers are more likely than others to quit school, require public assistance and to live in poverty."

Are we really stunned by the findings of this latest study? How shocked would we be to learn that someone who saturates his diet with hot dogs, bacon, and other processed meats has developed cancer? Or that someone who gorges daily on baked goods, candy, and ice cream has become obese or developed diabetes?

Overindulging is bound to have consequences, some of them unwanted and unplanned.

Our favorite TV programs, however, seldom carry warning labels. The possible consequences of risky behavior--pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases--are seldom portrayed. How often have the characters on "Friends" or "Sex and the City" talked about safe sex? Or engaged in safe practices? How often have the frequent portrayals of one-night-stands resulted in health problems?

But avoiding TV programs with sexual content is difficult. Approximately 80 percent of today's programming includes sexual scenes or dialogue. Producers and scriptwriters rely heavily on the marketing premise that sex sells. Take a look at the themes of the highly popular "Two and a Half Men" or the program geared specifically to teenagers, "90210."

We must not wait for other studies to confirm what we already feel in our gut. The hypersexualized messages being fed to us by TV as well as movies, music, magazines, and the Internet have a negative impact on formative minds.

As parents, we need to know the viewing and listening habits of our youngsters, and we must be willing to have frank discussions with them about the behavior and values being portrayed. Everybody may be doing it on TV, but in real life, actions have social, moral and legal consequences.

To avoid overexposure to the media we need to work with our teenagers to help them find satisfying alternatives for their bountiful energy--activities such as after-school sports, personal enrichment opportunities, or limited, part-time work.

It is often said that in terms of our body, we are what we eat. In terms of the formation of attitudes and our behavior, we can say the same thing: Garbage in, garbage out.

Sally A. Connolly, a retired school counselor, is the author of A BOY FROM LAWRENCE: The Collected Writings of Eugene F. Connolly (2006) and Never Better: All Things Considered (2007). For more information, go to


Connolly Associates MA, US
Sally Connolly - Director, 978 774-8158



TV and pregnancy

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