Teen Health and the Media
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  • Americans spend about one-third of their free time, MORE THAN THE NEXT 10 MOST POPULAR LEISURE ACTIVITIES COMBINED, watching television. The average teenager spends more time in front of the television than any other activity besides sleeping.
  • Television viewing increases in pre-teen years and declines after age 12. Adolescents aged 9-14 spend over 20 percent of waking hours watching television, compared to 9 percent on hobbies and 3.5 percent on homework.
  • The average American teen spends about 20 hours a week watching television, with the heaviest viewers coming from low-income households.
  • African-American households, in general, watch more television than other groups in the U.S. African-Americans watch, on average, two more hours of primetime television per week and watch close to five more hours of daytime television per week.
  • By age 18, a teenager will have seen 350,000 commercials; 100,000 may be advertisements for beer.


While watching TV:

  • 31% of kids (ages 8-17) eat or drink while watching in the morning
  • 21% of kids eat or drink while watching in the afternoon
  • 27% of kids eat or drink while watching in the evening

While using the Internet:

  • 19% of kids eat or drink while using in the morning
  • 2% of kids eat or drink while using in the afternoon
  • 4% of kids eat or drink while using in the evening

Source: "How Children Use Media Technology" from Knowledge Networks/Statistical Research


  • Two out of every three shows on TV include sexual content, an increase from about half of all shows during the 97/98 television season. The most widely viewed shows-those airing in primetime on the major networks-are even more likely to include sexual content.
  • Sexual intercourse is depicted or strongly implied in one of every ten shows on TV.
  • Of those instances of sexual intercourse either depicted or strongly implied, only half occurred among couples who had an established relationship with one another. Ten Percent involved couples who had just met.
  • Only 10% of all television programs contain sexual scenes that include any reference to the possible risks or responsibilities associated with sex, including pregnancy or STDs.  However, shows that depict teens in sexual situations, especially those involved in sexual intercourse, are much more likely than other shows to include references to the possible uses or responsibilities of sexual activity.  While eight percent of all shows contain sexual content involving teens, nearly 20 percent make some reference to waiting to have sex, safer sex or the risks of sexual activity.
  • 9% of TV programs include some sexual content involving teens. While two years ago, 3% of all characters involved in intercourse were teens, today that figured has jumped to 9%.
  • According to a study prepared for the Kaiser Family Foundation, fifty hours of programming selected included 156 acts of sexual intercourse and only five references within three episodes to contraception or safer sex.  The only mention of HIV/AIDS referred to contraction through IV drug use and not sexual activity.


  • There are strong theoretical reasons to believe that media may play an especially important role in the socialization of sexual knowledge, attitudes, and behavior.  Health topics in entertainment television shows can increase viewers' awareness of important health issues. 
  • In a study of 13-and 14-year-olds, heavy exposure to sexually oriented television increased acceptance of nonmarital sex. 
  • In a Kaiser Family Foundation study, 76 percent of teens said that one reason young people have sex is because TV shows and movies make it seem normal for teens.
  • In another Kaiser Family Foundation study, most children aged 11 to 13 and some children aged 8 to 10 understood the sexual content, even the jokes and innuendoes about sex.
  • Viewing of daytime serials and MTV is a predictor of sexually permissive attitudes and behavior among college students.  Older adolescents in one study tended to mimic the sexual themes from the shows they watched.
  • College students exposed to large amounts of sexual behaviors on television were more likely to believe that their peers engaged in those same activities.


  • According to a recent survey of regular viewers of the TV program, ER, 53 percent said that they learn about important healthcare issues from the show; 32 percent said that they get information that helps them make choices about their own or their family's healthcare. 
  • The same study looked at knowledge of emergency contraception after a brief mention of this pregnancy prevention option in one episode.  Of those who were aware that there is something a woman can do to prevent pregnancy, even after unprotected sex, 20 percent volunteered that they had learned about the issue from ER.  
  • Even before this episode aired, those who knew about emergency contraception were far more likely to say they had learned about this issue from the media than from doctors or clinics.


  • Eighty-six percent of those polled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated that HIV/AIDS prevention information should be aired on television.
  • Seventy-three percent agreed that information on condom use should also be aired.  
  • Among 18-25 year-olds, ninety-two percent agreed that condom information should be aired on TV.

Source: http://www.themediaproject.com

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