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August 24, 2010

Does racy TV cause racy teens?

Filed under: issues,media,pop culture,Psychology — posted by Paula @ 10:11 am

Via Science Daily:

That old adage favored by scientists and ‘60s girl groups — “correlation is not causation, no sir” — seems to have eluded more than a few pundits in our day.

One hasty assumption in particular–that sexy media influences kids to have sex earlier–is being challenged in an article in a recent issue of Developmental Psychology. Psychologists Laurence Steinberg and Kathryn Monahan revisit a much-cited 2006 study by media expert Jane D. Brown which concluded that exposure to sexualized content on TV, or in music, movies, and magazines, accelerates sexual activity in young teenagers.

Steinberg and Monahan reanalyzed the data of Brown’s longitudinal study, but this time took into account the other dimensions of the participants’ lives that may have influenced their exposure to sexualized media and their pre-existing inclination to view or listen to the sexy stuff.

The authors discovered that while a link exists between sexual content and earlier sexual activity, they found “no accelerating or hastening effect of exposure to sexy media content on sexual debut once steps were taken to ensure that adolescents with and without high media exposure were matched on their propensity to be exposed to media with sexual content.”

They conclude, in other words, that the kids who were inclined to have sex earlier were also the kids who’d be likely to consume the hotter media, but the media didn’t, like, make them do it. In OTHERother words, it wasn’t Ke$ha’s fault (this time).

Kudos to Steinberg and Monahan for questioning a long-held assumption, turning the old blame-the-media trope on its head, and for using the word “sexy” about 700 times in their article, making it read like a Prince song.

Most importantly, they turn the focus back to other scientifically established causes of precocious sexual activity: parent–child conflicts and peer influence. Knowing the real causes may lead to more effective ways of helping kids be smart and wise consumers, or not, of the sexed-up stuff they see.

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