The Role of the Media and TV in Adolescent Sexuality Education and Pregnancy Prevention

WebMD Live Events Transcript

How influential are the media and TV with the sexual attitudes of youth? Media expert Kate Langrall-Folb will explore this issue.

Event Date: 05/23/2000.

The opinions provided by Kate Langrall-Folb are hers and hers alone. If you have medical questions about your health, you should consult with your personal physician. This event is intended for informational purposes only.

Moderator: Welcome to WebMD Live's Family Wellness Auditorium. Today we are discussing "The Role of the Media and TV in Adolescent Sexuality Education and Pregnancy Prevention," with Kate Langrall-Folb.

Kate Langrall-Folb is director of The Media Project, a partnership of Advocates for Youth and the Kaiser Family Foundation. The Media Project ( www.themediaproject.com) provides research and informational briefings for the entertainment industry on important topics in the field of sexual health. Langrall-Folb also helped to create AdSmarts, one of the first media literacy curricula for middle school students. Langrall-Folb has a bachelor's degree from the University of Denver and a master's in education from the University of California at Los Angeles. In addition, Langrall-Folb has helped create several campaigns targeting at-risk youth for HIV testing.

Kate, welcome to WebMD Live. What is The Media Project? What is its purpose, what does it do, and how did it start?

Langrall-Folb: The Media Project is a collaborative effort of Advocates for Youth and the Kaiser Family Foundation. We provide entertainment industry professionals with the most up-to-date socially relevant and accurate information about sexual health issues. Because many teens receive information about values, attitudes, and behaviors from television, the Media Project offers writers, producers, and network executives an array of services to support accurate portrayals of family planning, sexuality, and reproductive health in their work.

Moderator: How does that happen? Do you work with the writers, producers and executives on story lines and characters?

Langrall-Folb: Yes. We approach the industry in several ways. First, we conduct ongoing outreach to the television industry to get private meetings with a television production company where we can educate, inform and gently encourage the writers to think about sexual health when portraying sexuality in their shows. We also offer a hotline, which is called The Media Project Help Line, where writers can call for quick facts or statistics or information. We also consult on scripts. For example, a writer can send me the pages from the script that deals with HIV testing, or with regard to teen pregnancy -- perhaps a young girl having a pregnancy test and then being counseled on her options. We can review the script and check it for accuracy, make sure this is something a doctor would really say or do, to make sure they're not giving out misinformation over the air. We also sponsor informational briefing sessions or panel discussions to the industry where we will focus on a particular topic of interest or something that's newsworthy, again, to inform the industry and to encourage them to think about ways they could incorporate that information into their shows. Lastly, we host the annual SHINE Awards (Sexual Health in Entertainment). They're in late October, and it's a gala entertainment industry celebrity-attended television event, where we honor television programs from the past season that have made an extra effort to convey important family planning or reproductive health messages. We're in the process of sending out our call for entries, so the programs will then be submitted and screened internally for accuracy and appropriateness, and then we will have a formal judging in August in which members of the reproductive health community, entertainment industry, and teens will judge the finalists based on category: Comedy, drama, daytime drama, et cetera. We give them very specific criteria by which to judge the shows for accuracy, for entertainment value, for does it give you cause for dialogue amongst the viewers or cause people to think and consider the issues. Then we hold the event in late October where we announce the winners. It's our way of giving back to the industry and celebrating the good things that TV is doing. There are plenty of people and organizations out there that like to finger point and blame the industry.

Moderator: What is "responsible" and "irresponsible" programming? Could you please provide specific examples?

Langrall-Folb: We feel that it's important to give a young person the whole picture when it comes to sexuality. With regard to teen pregnancy, that would mean not just portraying the romance of sex, but also risks and responsibilities that go along with sexual activity, so that young people get a clear picture of what it means to be sexually active. They can better make a decision for their own lives. If all we're doing is telling them that sex is fun and romantic and you get the attention of the boys or whatever, but we don't tell them the other consequences, they're not able to make a responsible decision because they don't have all the information. We're not trying to clean up TV by taking all sexual content off the air, because that's unrealistic. We are asking the industry to paint a more realistic picture for the young people, and that will normalize healthy behaviors and provide them with the information they need to make the best decision for their own lives.