Sex, Violence, Teens, and the Media

We’ve long suspected it. With some common sense and observation, you might come to a similar conclusion: The media can–and does–negatively affect our children.

(I’m reminded of the TV show my parents let me and my siblings watch–until they realized that we were picking up bad habits from the way the children on the show behaved.)

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published two studies indicating that teen viewing of sex and aggression on TV and in video games negatively affects their behavior. Both were longitudinal studies, that is, studies that follow the same group of people over an extended period of time.

The first study asked whether watching sex on television predicted teen pregnancy. It found “a prospective link between exposure to sexual content on TV and the experience of a pregnancy before the age of 20.”

The second study asked whether “high exposure to violent video games increases physical aggression over time.” The researchers evaluated participants in both high- and low-violence cultures (the United States and Japan, respectively). The study found that “habitual violent video game play early in the school year predicted later aggression. . . . Those who placed a lot of violent video games became relatively more physically aggressive.”

Are we surprised at these studies? No, not really. But we’re grateful for them, and hope to see more such studies.

They also offer a few important reminders:

  • Good formation is irreplaceable. Not only formation in the truths of the faith, but instruction and guidance in making good decisions (i.e., conscience formation). Children need to know how to identify and choose what is good, and reject what is evil.
  • Parents need to act like parents. Not only are they allowed to, but they need to vet their children’s movies and video games. (ZENIT offers a down-to-earth interview with Kristen Fyfe, the senior writer for the Culture and Media Institute, who analyzed the studies. I liked Fyfe’s summary advice: “In short: be the parent!”)
  • The media is a mission field! Dr. Eugene Gan wrote on this topic in Lay Witness magazine not too long ago. The media needs courageous Christians working in the field.

We can win or lose so much ground by being faithful in these things. As St. Paul writes, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners compete, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24).

Hat tip to Jeff Ziegler.

One response

  1. Good comments! Common sense might lead us to these answers, but it is nice to have the scientific documentation too.
    These studies simply fortify the old saying:
    “Sow a thought, reap an action;
    Sow an action, reap a habit;
    Sow a habit, reap a character;
    Sow a character, reap a destiny.”

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