Mass Media Effects on Sexual Education of ChildrenIntroductionMessages about sex and sexuality are prevalent and pervasive in American culture. A message about sex may be as blatant as a photograph of a nude man and woman having sexual intercourse, or it may be more subtle, as an advertisement featuring a man or woman dressed in revealing clothing designed to persuade consumers to purchase a product or service. Children receive messages about sex and sexuality that explain sexual differences, indicate sexual roles, and teach them what it means to be sexual beings from the time they are infants.
These messages may come from a number of sources and may contain a broad spectrum of information, from which different meanings may be interpreted. Because sexual messages are received at a young age and are readily available, they are likely memorable messages, and the interpretation of the meaning of these messages may lead to the development of certain attitudes and knowledge about sex. Messages about sex and sexuality that are received during childhood and adolescence will likely influence sexual values, beliefs, and attitudes, and ultimately sexual experiences, sexual behavior, and intimate relationships.Forms of media, such as television, film, popular music, music videos, and the Internet provide information about sex and sexual behavior by providing visual and auditory experiences to deliver messages. The National Institute for Mental Health has reported on the degree to which mass media are actually educational about sex. Since media contribute to the socialization of children and adolescents, they are also socialized in what are appropriate sexual activities. Our society today has many messages that are confusing and conflicting when it comes to sexuality. Adolescents are searching through the images for a code that will define how they are going to act.
Television is the most powerful storyteller to which our culture has ever been subjected. This media is “proficient at taking an otherwise vastly diverse population of people and defining for them a common set of conceptions and expectations about life”. Before parents even think to sit down with their children or adolescents and talk about boys and girls, sex, and relationships, the television has already written a script for them to follow. Parents and peers are no longer the major sources of information for teenagers. While adolescents search for answers and autonomy, they turn away from their parents and to mass media. Television provides an alternative to asking questions about your problems. It’s a way to figure things out seemingly by yourself.The paper explores the effects mass media, and particularly television, have upon children.
The paper builds upon research on theoretical underpinnings, such as Social Learning Theory and memorable messages. Then the impact of memorable messages on behavior, media as sources of sexual information and the content and meaning of early sexual messages are explored. Finally, some conclusive remarks are presented.;Social Learning TheoryThere are specific theoretical approaches and types of frameworks that allow researcher to obtain a more in-depth and comprehensive understanding of certain social phenomena, such as investigating the impact of media on sexual development of children. Social learning theory can be used to explain how behavior is learned. Bandura began publishing information about Social learning Theory as early as 1967.
In the theory, he proposed that individuals learn culture and socially acceptable behaviors by watching how others act around them. The theory is most known for its application to learning criminal behavior by observing it among peers. In much the same fashion, Social Learning Theory has been used to explain the process of learning and adopting behaviors from mass media.A basic assumption of social learning theory is that people are social beings, who learn and react to their environment. According to social learning theory, sexual behavior is learned, with two social learning principles in particular being most applicable to the data in this study; modeling and reinforcement.
Social learning theory explains that people learn by observing the behavior of others and the outcomes of others’ behavior. In essence, children learn by imitating and modeling the behavior of another; and through reinforcement of behavior.For the process to begin a model must first be provided. The model can be a real person or a fictitious character, or the model can be verbal, visual, or within a text. The ideal model for Social Learning Theory is one that is similar to the person observing the model. People are more accepting of the actions provided by models that are comparable to themselves. If an adequate model is provided, the actions of that model could be acquired in segments or almost entirely. Most all of human learning is a function of observation and imitation.
Bandura defines acquiring the behaviors of a model or example provided within society as a modeling effect.A model needs to be similar to the observer for purposes of identification. If a person cannot see himself or herself taking on that particular role, identification is low. When people feel themselves connected to the model and the behaviors of that model, identification is high.
Identification, termed as a process to shape one’s personality by Freud, occurs when an observer takes on the behaviors, roles, attitudes, and emotions of a model. Not all behaviors of models are observed to be beneficial to the observer. If the observer detects harm or negative consequences coming to the model because of their actions, the behavior is not likely to be imitated. A behavior is most often repeated when it is observed to have positive reinforcement.Reinforcement is anything that maintains or strengthens the behavior. This can take the form of rewards, or lack of punishment. Even if an action is perceived to be wrong but the model consistently goes unpunished, there is perceived reinforcement.
Imitation is the last step in the process. After the observer has chosen a model, identified with it, and perceived reinforcement of behaviors, imitation takes place. “The observer will take on the behavior as part of his or her personal definition”.
When teenagers begin looking for models, it is inevitable they will observe some from the media. When they do take cues from the media, they take them from teenage characters that are similar to themselves. Many critics of television say that teenagers are the most susceptible to modeling after characters because of the uncertainty of the age. Adolescence has been called the impressionable years; it is also the time when many social relationships are being explored for the first time. A primary agenda for teenagers is “to develop and define themselves.”;Memorable Sexual MessagesMemorable messages and the impact of memorable messages have been studied in a number of contexts, and an early definition of memorable messages that has been cited in most of the literature on this topic focused on verbal messages.
Knapp et al., defined memorable messages as: “verbal messages which may be remembered for extremely long periods of time and which people perceive as a major influence on the course of their lives”. Stohl later expounded upon this definition and explained that “memorable messages tend to be short discursive units that articulate behavioral injunctions through the use of such linguistic devices as proverbs, colloquialisms, and ‘rules of thumbs,'”. Knapp et al., found memorable messages to be a rich source of information about self-perceptions and the way in which people communicate and socialize.
Stohl argued that memorable messages provide information regarding norms, values, expectations, rules, requirements, and rationality of a culture, which provides sense-making structures that allow individuals to understand and guide behavior.Memorable messages were studied by Smith and Ellis, using a control theory framework, which predicts that memorable messages should come to mind when a person is assessing personal behavior by using the comparison process inherent in the negative feedback loop, and that these messages should provide general guidance for what one should or should not do in particular situations. Smith ; Ellis, focused on memorable messages adopted the control theory perspective, and essentially explained why people behave the way they do and how they assess their own behavior.
They suggested memorable messages sent by important others were recalled when self-assessing behavior, and that memorable messages were associated with behaviors that violated or exceeded personal expectations.Research has indicated memorable messages are important because “they provide socializing functions by influencing cognitions and behaviors”. Some of the contexts in which memorable messages have been studied include self-assessment of behavior, aging, organizations and the work place, religious faith and spirituality, high levels of stress.
 Essentially, memorable messages are those that are recalled when choosing how to behave or when assessing one’s prior behavior, and in addition, they may serve as part of the foundation for personal standards people employ on a daily basis. Messages about sex are received at an early age, they are undoubtedly recalled when thinking about sexual attitudes and behavior, and are therefore among the most significant memorable messages. Mass Media as Sources of Early Sexual Messages and InformationStudies indicated there are a number of sources from which children and adolescents obtain knowledge and information about sex, including parents, siblings, peers, romantic partners, educators, religious organizations, and media, such as literary, print, entertainment, and electronic media. Children acquire knowledge and expectations about sex in a number of ways. From their everyday experiences with their parents, friends, siblings, and television, children receive various kinds of messages about sex and use this input to construct an understanding of sexuality. These sexual messages do not need to be direct or verbal to be informative, but are typically “indirect, nonverbal, ambiguous, inconsistent, and all-too-often absent”.
Media are known as primary sources of sexual information for youth that have been heavily studied by researchers and scholars in the past two decades. Media are salient sources because they are readily accessible and their reach is universal. Electronic media and television are said to provide “a window to many parts of the world, such as sexually-related behaviors that would be otherwise shielded from young audiences”. Forms of media are influential, not only because they are easily accessible, but also because they provide young people with categories of self-definition, they facilitate the construction of identities, and they serve as a resource of information.
Media communicate gender differences and identities, convey socializing messages, and teach sexual behaviors, beliefs, attitudes, and appropriateness. Forms of media have also been said to teach youth “the facts of life”. In addition, adolescents rank the media with parents and peers as important sources of sexual information. The most dominant forms of media that communicate sexual messages include television, film, popular music, and electronic media, with television, and more recently the Internet, as the most discussed forms.Television is known to be “the most heavily used form of mass communication,” and is considered to be the primary socializing factor in young people’s lives. “Even with a plethora of new media technologies at their disposal, youth between the ages of 8 and 13 watch nearly four hours (3:43) of television per day, while adolescents aged 14-18 watch almost three hours (2:43)”. Many teenagers reported they do not receive adequate information about sex from parents and sex education in school, and turn to television for knowledge and social norms about sexual activity.
Television has been teaching us about race, class, and sexual socialization. Talk shows and soap operas, though they may not be available at times that are prime for youth to watch, also contain sexual information. Many teens say that they have learned how to talk to romantic partners about sexual issues from television; even children’s television has long portrayed relational information.Less pervasive but not unlike television, films provide sexual information to children and adolescents. Many adolescents clearly saw television and film as key sources of information and ideas about love, sex, and relationships. Television and film were seen to possess several advantages over other potential sources of information because they directly addressed topics that many children found embarrassing to discuss with their parents or teachers, and they feared approaching a parent because the parent might not believe them to be mature enough to know the information.
Television and film were also found to be viable sources because they didn’t preach and they often offered the benefit of anonymity, particularly if they were consumed privately.In addition to television and film, music and music videos also offer widespread sexual messages in popular culture, and teach children and adolescents about sex, love, romance, and intimate relationships. Reitman suggested almost all songs contain themes of sex, love, and romance, and he believes that if an individual listens to any Top Forty rock or rhythm-and-blues station for an hour, the number of songs that don’t contain at least one of these themes would be almost zero. In an earlier study, Wilkinson found most popular music has a romantic theme.He also explained that while depicting sex and romantic love, the lyrics in music may provide an emotional release, especially for men in a culture that views emotions as un-masculine: “Love songs help facilitate the expression of repressed needs”. Some of the themes Wilkinson uncovered in music include falling in love, being in love, breaking up. female devilishness and sexual promiscuity, loneliness, fate, powerlessness.
and infidelity. It is therefore not surprising that when it comes to teaching youth about sex, “Popular music is part of the hegemony, that invisible but powerful ideology” that teaches kids sexual norms and values, and more specifically sexual orientation. Music television and other music videos are also popular and salient media outlets for youth that frequently display suggestive sexual imagery and often eroticism. Viewing music videos is also found to influence adolescents’ attitudes concerning early or risky sexual activity, and lyrics in music videos have become increasingly sexually explicit.Whereas other forms of media have served as a vehicle for communicating knowledge and information for decades, in the last ten years the Internet has become a significant source of information.
 In the proposed study on early sexual messages, the participants were likely children and adolescents who predated the age of electronic media, though the Internet as a source for sexual information will likely play a significant role in future studies. The Internet has become a conduit for providing children and adolescents with accessible, adequate, and immediate sexual health information, and web sites designed specifically for educating teens and parents offer information on virtually any sexually-related topic.Seventy percent of teens in the U.S. use the Internet, and about half of teens were found to go online for health information; they also have more questions about sex than any other topic.
 Entering the term sex or sexuality will retrieve thousands of web addresses, including sites with erotic and pornographic information, as well as sites on health, social issues, and sexual topics. The blocking of certain types of sites then becomes an issue for children and adolescents, as many of the sites are inappropriate for youth.The aforementioned forms of media are not exclusive sources for providing information to youth about sex. Literary and print media play a role in providing sexual information and socialization to children and adolescents. It has been reported that teens felt sex education and parents did not tell them everything they wanted to know, whereas magazines would tell them everything they want to know. In summary, the media are important sex educators and will continue to be in the future.
;Television Effects on Sexual Development of ChildrenMass media has been ranked along with parents and peers as outlets in which teenagers gain knowledge about sex. Media is approximated to have the most powerful impact on teenagers’ understandings about sex. Teenagers spend more time watching television then they spend with their friends, at school, or with parents. Teenagers have reported that sexual and romantic guidelines are extracted from the media as well. They can easily see numerous examples of how dating, relationships, and sex are supposed to be handled socially. Character interactions serve as examples for the viewers to internalize and follow.
Television appeals most to this age group because of the lack of embarrassment involved. If you learn through television, peers and family are not involved. Television is also extremely accessible and convenient. Answers are provided for hard question the schools and parents try to avoid.Television provides the most for teenagers with limited experience with sex information. The most likely people to turn to the media for information are the younger, most inexperienced populations. Studies have been done showing that teenagers are not receiving the information they request about sex and relationships, therefore, they are coming face to face with decisions about sex before they have gained knowledge of their options.Adolescence is an impressionable time.
In times such as these information seeking is at its peak. Because teenagers are experiencing an earlier physical development, they are having sexual experiences at younger ages. The body matures before the minds in many cases. This makes it difficult for teenagers to “distinguish between the fiction of television and the reality of consequences”. The social system has also experienced a developmental stage in relation to sexuality.
Many customs and conventions have changed. People have accused the United States of becoming obsessed with sexuality. With the changes going on around them, teenagers are unsure of their role as sexual people.The increase in sexuality on television has helped to speed up the sexual curiosity of teenagers. Sex has become more profitable to prime time producers than violence.
One-half of the shows monitored by the United States News contained sexual behaviors or references. On average, a sexual act or reference occurs every four minutes on prime time. When looking at only prime time shows popular with a teenage audience, one-third contained some form of sexuality. In teenage programs, intercourse is present in one in every eight shows on television. The amount of sex in prime time programs increased from one-half of the programs in 1997-1998 to two-thirds of the programs in 1999-2000. From the television industry’s standpoint, the increase in sexuality is justified. Sixty-two percent of teenagers prefer shows with sexual behavior involved.
 Jeffery Cole, the director of the UCLA center who conducted the U.S. News study, reports that “dramas and comedies on prime time that report the highest sexuality receive the highest ratings”.Countless studies have been done to determine the significance sexual programming has on a person’s sexuality. It has been shown that the more sexually explicit television a person watches, the more likely they are to be involved in sexual activity and the more likely they are to have negative opinions about virginity.Rivadeneyra and Ward accuse prime time television of placing too much importance on the role of sex in relationships and dating. If you did not know better, the impression television presents about sex is that every young, attractive, single person is doing it.
 A teenage character in prime time makes sharing anyone’s bed look natural. While most of the observed sexual encounters are outside of marriage, approximately half are between people within an established relationship. Seventy-one percent of the sexual encounters recorded in programs that had the highest ratings among teens were between established partners.When looking at how sexuality is different for males and females, similarities to gender stereotypes are obvious. Females were consistently younger, scantily dressed, and provocative. More importance is placed on the physical appearance of women than men. Female characters are always attractive, fit, and feminine. Despite this, males are always represented as the more sexual gender, being stereotyped as eternally ready and willing.
 Males are held to a different standard than females when it comes to sex. They are supposed to have knowledge and experience of sexual acts. Aiding in these stereotypes is the belief that in their daily lives males spend more time than females discussing matters of sexuality with one another.Teenagers have been engaging in sexual activities at a higher rate and taking their safety for granted.
The National Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 2,329 students reports that one in six claims to have engaged in sexual activity by or before the age of thirteen. Three-fourths of these students engaging in sexual activity do not take precautions to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Most reported not using condoms or birth control of any kind during intercourse.
 It seems that teenagers lack the preparation to avoid potentially harmful consequences of sex. Perhaps this is because television consistently shows sexually irresponsible models for teenagers. In all television programs, only one in eleven contained references having to do with a sexually transmitted disease or AIDS. Issues such as birth control or abortion were mentioned only once in eighty-five sexual references.
Just because television chooses to ignore the negative consequences of sexually transmitted diseases, it does not mean that adolescents can afford to. Twelve percent of them have contracted a disease they are not aware of and unintentionally spread it to someone else. Adding in those who are aware of contraction, approximately fifteen percent of teenagers today are living with an STD of some kind. Adolescence presents the stage of life when a person is most likely to contract syphilis or gonorrhea. Two people under the age of twenty become infected with HIV every hour in the United States.
Pregnancy is also overlooked as a possible outcome of sex by television programming.. This could be because fifty percent of adolescents report that they get their information about birth control from the media. This information in television seems to be well hidden and difficult to detect. The United States reports the highest teen pregnancy rate of the Western industrialized world. More than one million teenage girls a year become pregnant. This is four out often, before they reach the age of twenty.Health advocates are pushing for television to take some responsibility for the problem.
A number of organizations are putting pressure on producers and networks to provide more negative consequences to reckless sexual activity, and provide more sexually responsible role models. The argument is how the media has been used successfully in other cultures as an educator about sex. The same tactics could be used to benefit the United States.Substantial amounts of previous research have shown that television can be significant in the socialization of teenagers.
The characters and portrayals of teenagers in television are “powerful socializing agents and can have a vast influence on large amounts of adolescents.” In a survey often to sixteen year olds, one- third of them reported learning things from television characters, and two-thirds reported that their friends imitate what they see on television. Young people say that television is a source of information about relationships and roles.Social Learning Theory can be used to explain what implications the teenage characters in prime time television have for the teenagers who watch the programs. What is seen on the screen can shape actions and understandings in reality.
It is important to understand what behaviors are being provided and reinforced to teenagers while they watch television. Television must be held to a standard understood as a socializing agent.;ConclusionForms of media, such as television, film, popular music, music videos, and the Internet provide information about sex and sexual behavior by providing visual and auditory experiences to deliver messages.
Talk about sex and sexual behavior is “frequently seen across the television landscape”. According to Kunkel et al., television provides viewers with information about sexual activity, offers advice about whom to have sexual relations with, ascribes sexual orientation, and offers messages about prevention and behaviors to reduce the risk of infection from sexually transmitted diseases.These researchers explained that television defines what it means to be a virgin and the positive and negative aspects of virginity; and when teenagers begin to have sex they assume the risk of disease and unwanted pregnancy.
On television, kids are seeing a world in which everything is sensual and physical. Television also depicts specific instances of sexual activity by showing people who are having sex without protection, as if there are no potential negative outcomes.In summary, various forms of media inform and educate youth, by providing visual and auditory messages about sex and sexuality.
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