Highly sexual TV shows and intensely violent Web sites and video games may be affecting teenagers' behavior, according to three studies published in Pediatrics.
Sex on TV and teen pregnancy. A total of 2,003 teens (ages 12 to 17 years) were asked how often they watched 23 popular TV shows that portrayed passionate kissing, sexual talk, and sexual intercourse. One to three years later they were interviewed again; 744 teens reported being sexually active. Those who watched the most TV shows with sexual content were two to three times more likely to become pregnant or to impregnate someone than were teens who watched the least. The authors say that the findings of this longitudinal study demonstrate "a prospective link" between watching the shows and becoming pregnant, with implications for pediatricians (who should be aware of the link), media outlets (which should portray the negative outcomes of sex), and parents (who should watch TV with their children and talk with them about sex).
Web sites and teen violence. A total of 1,588 10-to-15-year-olds were asked about the types of Web sites they visited. Youths who most frequently visited sites depicting real people fighting, shooting, or killing were five times more likely to report engaging in assaults, stabbings, robberies, and other violent behavior than were those who never visited violent Web sites. "Violence online may be particularly important to our understanding of seriously violent behavior among today's young people," the researchers write. They advise health care professionals to encourage parents to install software that blocks and filters violent sites as a way of reducing access to online violence.
Video games and violence. Teens in both Japan, considered a "low violence" culture, and the United States, a "high violence" culture, who chronically play violent video games behave more aggressively than classmates who don't play these games, researchers say. Analyzing data from studies of 1,231 Japanese students (ages 12 to 18 years) and 364 U.S. students (ages nine to 12 years), the authors found that children who played violent video games early in the school year exhibited increases in physical aggression such as kicking, punching, and hitting three to six months later. The authors conclude that the two cultures' similar behavior "strongly supports the theory that playing violent video games is a causal risk factor for relative increases in later physical aggressiveness," and rules out the notion that naturally aggressive children prefer violent video games.
Anderson CA, et al. Pediatrics 2008;122(5): e1067-e1072; Chandra A, et al. Pediatrics 2008;122(5):1047–54
; Ybarra ML, et al. Pediatrics 2008;122(5):929–37.