Children, adolescents, and teens are inundated with images and themes of sexuality and other adult behaviors, such as drinking or smoking, on a daily basis. Parents and other responsible, trusted adults are tasked with the duty of either limiting exposure to movies, television, music, video games, and internet media with adult themes or having to help the young person process the information in a healthy way.
While early exposure to adult themes and imagery and whether or not it increases the risk of early sexual experimentation or substance abuse is an ongoing topic of debate, it can be assumed that, at very least, it can spur a young person’s curiosity and imagination.
Facts on Teen and Adolescent Behavior (Centers for Disease Control, United States):
• 60% of males and 51% of females ages 15-19 were sexually active in 1988.
• 47% of high school students were sexually active in 2013.
• Between 1990 and 2010 teen pregnancy rate dropped 51%
• Teen birth rates dropped 10% between 2012 and 2013.
• Teen birth rates have dropped 57% since 1991
• Teen birth rates as of 2013 were at their lowest level since 1940, and were at their highest in 1957
Smoking and Drinking:
• Teen smoking is at its lowest level since 1991.
• Less than 16% of teens smoke, compared to 34% in 1997
• In 2013, 28% of 8th graders and 68% of 12th graders had tried alcohol
Despite adult themes being ever-prevalent in our society, fewer children are smoking, having sex, or becoming pregnant today than over the last few decades; the numbers are not ideal, however. Almost half of teens and adolescents are having sex, and that rate needs improvement. Smoking is on a rapid decrease among young people. Use of alcohol, however, continues to be a continuous and serious problem.
A Teachable Moment
It is difficult to shield adolescents from all sexually-charged media. Currently, network television airs sexual innuendo and sex scenes before 10 pm that may have been restricted to R-rated movies only a decade ago. Be aware of what children are viewing and limit inappropriate content when possible. When limiting becomes difficult, helping a young person process the information they are receiving is the best defense.
The positive thing that comes from our culture of explicit media is that it provides ways to break the ice into a conversation. Discussing a movie involving sex, alcohol, or other risky behaviors can lead to a great opportunity for a learning experience. Have open dialog concerning reality versus fantasy, to be sure kids understand that what they see in the media isn’t always based in reality. While it is uncomfortable to think about a fourteen year old engaging in sex or binge drinking, they need to know the risks before engaging in experimentation. Conversations covering birth control, consent, and substance abuse should begin well before they get to an age where they are at risk.
Armed with reality-based facts, kids will be less likely to see sensationalized adult behavior as some mystery to solve and less likely to allow themselves to be tempted by the forbidden.