Today there are more reasons than ever to pay attention to media messages about sexuality and contraception. Teens spend more than seven hours a day on average with various forms of media, often without adults around. Television shows and Web sites that are popular with teens-and the way sex is portrayed in those venues-could be important factors in the initiation of sexual intercourse.
The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Western hemisphere, and a recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revealed that 1 in 4 teenagers has had a sexually transmitted infection. Just as inappropriate media messages can be detrimental to teens, socially responsible programming can be a powerful vehicle for sexual health education.
A revised policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media," published in the September 2010 print issue of Pediatrics (published online Aug. 30), includes updated recommendations for pediatricians and parents. Among the new recommendations since 2001:
- Pediatricians can help parents and teens recognize the importance of this issue by asking at least two media-related questions during office visits:
In addition to supervising their children's traditional media use, parents (as well as pediatricians) should understand social networking sites and counsel kids about using them.
The entertainment industry should be encouraged to produce more programming that contains responsible sexual content and that focuses on the interpersonal relationship in which sexual activity takes place. Meanwhile, advertisers should stop using sex to sell products.
Pediatricians and the government should urge and encourage the broadcast industry to air advertisements for birth control products.
Ads for erectile dysfunction drugs, which can be confusing to young viewers, should not air until after 10 p.m.
Parents can use media story lines as teachable moments to discuss sex with their teens instead of doing "the big talk."
- How much time do you spend daily with entertainment media?
- Is there a TV or Internet access in your bedroom?
The statement also calls for creation of a national task force on children, adolescents and the media to be convened by child advocacy groups in conjunction with the CDC or National Institutes of Health.