Teens and Television: Should you be concerned?

May 25, 2011
By
Every day after coming home from school, teenagers across America sit down on the sofa and watch approximately 3 and a half hours of television, according to the Media Literacy Clearinghouse. During these 3.5 hours, teens are glued to the tube and subjected to the messages and images portrayed by both reality and scripted television. Unfortunately, many of these shows convey distorted “reality” and unrealistic images of what teens’ lives should be like, as well as give teenagers false and potentially dangerous ideas. On the other hand, some of these shows portray the truth behind common teenage pursuits and the consequences that come with acting in these questionable ways—including underage drinking, drug use, sex, and abuse. Nevertheless, the impact that television has on adolescents cannot be undermined, and parents need to realize the different effects these programs have on their teenagers.

MTV’s popular, yet sometimes controversial reality show, 16 and Pregnant and its sister show, Teen Mom follows young teens who have gotten pregnant and documents all aspects of their lives—finding out about the pregnancy, telling the parents and father of the child, the relationship tumults that come along with handling parenthood at such young ages, as well as the challenge that many teen moms find too great, finishing high school and college. Although frequently criticized for “glamorizing” pregnancy for paying the teen moms for their involvement in the show, Teen Mom gives a realistic picture of young pregnancy by openly showing the challenges these teenagers face. On the blog, “Feministe,” commentator cjb1211 states, “I think what MTV is trying to convey to the teenagers watching is not only what you get when you have a baby, but what you stand to lose (i.e., there goes prom, a high school diploma in many cases, the carefree lifestyle once accustomed to).” Teen Mom also explores the preventative measures and options teens have by encouraging viewers to visit www.itsyoursexlife.org during every commercial break. Additionally, The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a scripted series, shines an honest light on the issues of teen pregnancy in a fictional setting. The Orlando Sentinel’s review of the show stated that creator, Brenda Hampton, “looks at teen sexuality with refreshing frankness.” Secret Life is also well-known for feel[ing] a lot more authentic than many teen dramas,” (Sentinel) as well as its partnership with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. These shows should be regarded as positive discussion stimuli between teens and their parents because of their informational and realistic nature.

Another one of MTV’s highly controversial shows, Skins, has been called “the most dangerous television show for children” by the Parents Television Council and is being investigated to see if it violates child pornography and exploitation laws. With such accusations Skins may seem impossible to defend but Brian Elsley, the creator of Skins, revealed the show’s true purpose in an interview with MTV News, saying that the show is, “a very serious attempt to get to the roots of young people’s lives.” In a written statement he declared,
“It deals with relationships, parents, death, illness, mental health issues, the consequences of drug use and sexual activity. It is just that these are characterized from the point of view of the many young people who write the show and has a very straightforward approach to their experiences; it tries to tell the truth. Sometimes that truth can be a little painful to adults and parents.”

In today’s world the truth is that there are thousands of teens who engage in the same sort of activities as seen on the show—sexual activity and drug and alcohol abuse. Shows like Skins thrust these issues into the forefront of society’s consciousness without glamorizing them. Rather than just showing the actions themselves, Skins shows the resulting consequences which range from the loss of a friendship to the contraction of a sexually transmitted disease. Skins also depicts the moral strength of teenagers, in many episodes it demonstrates that “teenagers can be loyal, supportive, dedicated, focused, and capable of making informed value judgments about their lives” (Elsley). Furthermore, the show has been used in anti-drug campaigns and serves to inspire viewers who relate to the subject matter to reach out for the help that they need. Although parents may be shocked by the content of this show, it’s vital that they understand that their teens are exposed to events similar to the ones portrayed in the show.

In juxtaposition to shows that teach valuable lessons, like Skins, Teen Mom, and The Secret Life of the American Teenager, shows like Gossip Girl have no redeeming quality in form of a life lesson or an accurate depiction of life and the consequences of one’s actions. Gossip Girl, the book-turned-TV series that focuses on a group of teenagers attending high school in New York City, has had its share of criticism for controversial plot lines, such as an episode that aired in November 2009 about three of the main characters engaging in a threesome. The Parents Television Council called the episode “reckless and irresponsible”. The CW, the network that airs the series, says the show is geared towards entertaining women ages 18 to 34. However, the popularity of the show with young adults and teenagers should cause concern for parents. Blake Lively, who plays one of the main characters frequently engaged in risqué behaviors, has been quoted as saying, “If (critics) watched the show they would see it is not as racy as it actually seems.” Although it may be entertaining, the show offers no educational value as Secret Life does. Carol Platt Liebau, a cultural commentator, says the show “glamorizes and normalizes the kinds of behavior that may seem charmingly risqué and sophisticated when little girls see them on TV, but which, if emulated in real life, can result in emotional and psychological distress for them.”

In a survey of 20 high school students, 67 percent of teens indicated that the shows they watch don’t necessarily reflect their personal views; however, only 25 percent of respondents stated that they frequently discuss the content of the shows with their parents. One hundred percent of these teens, however, stated that they believe teenagers and parents should be the ones who decide whether or not a show is appropriate for their age. Given the evidence in this survey, it is important that parents see and maintain their crucial role in determining what their teenagers watch and guiding them as to what’s appropriate. Although some of these programs may appear to have negative influences on teens, it is important that parents take the time to analyze and discuss the important topics brought up by the television shows.





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jomi973 said...
Jul. 22, 2011 at 4:46 pm
Yeah, there are some really inappropriate shows on television these days. I don't really watch much television, maybe two hours per week. When I do watch tv, I stay away from those types of shows. They don't reflect what I believe in at all. I am opposed to all types of drugs and sexual relationships during teenage years, So yeah. I only watch shows that are clean, but entertaining.
 
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