How does Media Affect Teens?

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Ivana Pejakovic, B.Sc., MA

It’s no longer necessary to ask IF media exposure affects teens and young adults. The question to ask now is ‘HOW does it affect them?’

Some experts have refute the idea that media has an effect on teens. The logic being the studies are correlational in nature, making it difficult to know if kids with a predisposition to violence are more likely to watch violent shows or if watching violence leads them to become more violent.

While the experts are busy debating, it’s up to you as a parent to notice how your child’s behaviour and attitude patterns change as a result of watching particular content. (Mimicking is a good clue).

A survey revealed that 75% of adults would like to see tighter enforcement of government rules on broadcast content. And in Britain 78% of 18 to 24-year-olds also believe tougher restrictions are necessary to discourage adolescent sex. Who’s best to tell us how media affects teens’ behaviour than teens and young adults themselves!

Media exposure definitely influences our behaviour. If it didn’t, marketers wouldn’t be investing millions (billions?) of dollars every year into advertising. They know if they portray their product or service as desirable and cool teens and young adults will want it.

According to a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (2005) teens spend about 44 hours a week on various forms of media (more time than they spend in school!). They’re bound to absorb some of what they are exposed to.

Youth and parents know it has an influence, but are unable to pinpoint the specific negative consequences.

Here are 4 ways:

1. Sexuality: The sexual content has become more explicit in nature and is targeting younger and younger kids. Even the ratings of movies have become less strict. Media (music videos, movies, and sexualized advertising) is portraying sex as something that everyone does (even to the 10 year olds who are watching!). Confused but curious teens and preteens who engage in sexual behaviour are left feeling used, worthless, and emotionally detached as they are not psychologically ready for these experiences (not to mention the increased risk of pregnancy).

2. Violence: The violent content we see today has increased in frequency as well as in vividness. Young kids and teens are exposed to heroes who are ever more violent with cooler than ever tricks and moves (most of which are done by stuntmen or are computerized). After their aggressive performance they are victorious, praised and awarded. With regular exposure to violence, teens (especially boys) are more likely to practice the moves and incorporate them into daily life when interacting with peers. Because peers are exposed to the same content, they respond in kind and the behaviour is considered acceptable in the youth culture.

3. Substance abuse: There aren’t many movies that do not include alcohol and drugs in at least one of the scenes, particularly when teens are partying. Alcohol and drugs are consistently paired with the idea that these substances help teens have more fun. More importantly, media portrays these scenes as reflection of reality leaving teens believing that everyone does it. As soon as teens feel singled out, they are more likely to conform to what they think is normal.

4. Unrealistic fitness and beauty stereotypes: The bodies we see today in media are hardly realistic human bodies. Photoshopped bodies aren’t real! The standard of the ‘ideal body’ leaves many adults feeling inadequate, not to mention teens and young adults who’re still using their appearance as clue to their identity. Unfortunately, media portrays these images as ideal and as something to be strived for, leaving teens to feel bad about themselves when they fail to measure up. This leads to low self-esteem, feelings of inadequacy, dissatisfaction, and shame. Poor body image and self-esteem can lead to unhealthy choices and behaviours.

Parents have the power to filter the content viewed and read about in the home. It takes times, patience, and communication with teens.

Best Wishes to You and Your Family!

Ivana Pejakovic, Toronto Life Coach

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