Is Your Teen On the Path to Early Pregnancy? What Research Tells Parents

Parent Alert: What a Recent Study About Teen Pregnancy Reveals


By Dr. Robyn Silverman

It’s not hard to believe. We saw it with Jamie Lynn Spears in the news. We saw it with American Pie (among many others) in the movies. And yes, we see it on TV. A study, published today, found that those teens and preteens who watch a lot of TV programs that feature flirting, necking, obvious sex scenes, and sex talk are much more likely than their peers who do not watch such programs to get pregnant or to get their partner pregnant.

There has been a recent surge of concern over teen pregnancy because after a steady decline over the last few decades, the number is creeping up again. Why is this happening? As we’ve discussed, girls have admitted that they’re feeling pressure to grow up too soon. Sexual messages abound. While TV and sexual content in teen programs can’t entirely be blamed, it seems to be playing a significant role. Parents beware.

The National Institutes of Health reported in July that teen pregnancies rose in the United States from 2005 to 2006 for the first time since 1991.

What was the study? This was the first study to link programs featuring TV sex scenes and TV sex talk to teen pregnancy. Those teens and preteens who watched the most TV featuring sexual content were twice as likely to be involved in a pregnancy than their peers who watched the least amount of such TV programs.

“Sexual content on television has doubled in the last few years, especially during the period of our research,” (Anita Chandra, lead researcher, Rand Corp)

Who was involved in the study? The researchers surveyed more than 2000 teens between 2001 and 2004 to gather information on their behavior, demographics, and TV viewing habits. Over 700 sexually active preteens and teens between the ages of 12 and 17 years old were tracked for 3 years.

“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy. We found a strong association.” (Anita Chandra, lead researcher)

What were they looking for? They were analyzing how often the teens saw TV characters engaging in sexual conduct or discussing sexual conduct on 23 shows in the 2000-2001 TV watching season.

Where and when was it published? The study is being published today in the well regarded journal of Pediatrics which is the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

What were some of the shows watched? Shows fell into the genres of dramas, comedies, reality shows and even animated programs. Among the shows the preteens and teens admitted watching were “Friends,” “Sex and the City,” and “That ’70s Show.” Chandra would not identify the others but stressed that they included

The stats:

Ø About 25 percent of those preteens or teens who watched the most sexually explicit shows were involved in a pregnancy, compared with about 12 percent of those who watched the least.

Ø In the study, 58 of girls reported getting pregnant and 33 boys reported getting a girl pregnant. The risk of pregnancy increased whether or not the teens and preteens watched only 1 or 2 sexually explicit shows or channel surfed many chows that had occasional sexual content

What can parents do?

Ø Educate yourself: Learn about the shows your children and teens are watching.

Ø Limit exposure: Media is everywhere. If you can limit your children’s exposure to sexually explicit media, you’re likely being a help to your children and teens.

Ø Discuss Consequences: Many TV shows don’t do a good job of detailing the consequences of sexual activity. Talk about pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other consequences with your kids so they fully understand.

Ø Allow them to ask questions: If you aren’t around to answer, they may get their answers from somewhere else—and they might just be the wrong answers.

What people are saying:

Ø Abstinence Programming: According to Valerie Huber, a representative of the National Abstinence Education Association, “we need to encourage schools to make abstinence-centered programs a priority.” After all, “We have a highly sexualized culture that glamorizes sex.”

Ø More Sex Ed: According to James Wagoner of Advocates for Youth, “This finding underscores the importance of evidence-based sex education that helps young people delay sex and use prevention when they become sexually active. The absolutely last thing we should do in response is bury our heads in the sand and promote failed abstinence-only programs.”

Ø Connection may not be real: According to Laura Lindberg of the Guttmacher Institute, “It may be the kids who have an interest in sex watch shows with sexual content. I’m concerned this makes it seem like if we just shut off the TV we’d dramatically reduce the teen pregnancy rate.”

With whom do you agree? What do you think is the answer? Teaching abstinence to teens and preteens? More sex ed in the schools? Shutting off the TV? More conversations at home after watching such shows together? More character education?

Please offer your solutions, concerns, comments, and question below. We want to hear what you have to say!

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One Response

  1. […] may remember the recent RAND study that showed that teens who watch more sexually themed TV are more likely to have a higher risk of […]

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