Sexuality Education and Pregnancy Prevention (cont.)
Moderator: Your organization's literature states that "TV is one of the primary sources for information about sex." Why, since this is the most computer and media savvy generation of young people ever?
Langrall-Folb: Television is still cited as one of the top three to four resources that kids turn to for information about sex. Obviously the computer world has begun to have a role, but if you look at our society as a whole, there are still many young people that do not have computers or are computer literate for that purpose. I expect it will change and computers will become even more influential, but right now young people cite school, parents, and television as their top resources for sex. The fourth is their friends, and there could still be some misinformation conveyed from those two resources.
Moderator: Whatever happened to "creative license" and creative freedom? Isn't it the parent's individual responsibility to educate their own children?
Langrall-Folb: Personally, absolutely. I believe that parents should be a very large presence in their young persons' lives. specifically with regard to sexuality. We know this is not the case for a lot of young people. It's not getting discussed in the home. It's not getting taught in school because of the debate in Washington and many schools are adopting the Abstinence Until Marriage message. From our perspective, what's going on in Washington right now is that a lot of money has been appropriated to go to state school boards of education for the purpose of promoting "Abstinence Until Marriage" health education program. There are several guidelines spelled out that if the state takes the money, they have to teach certain things. They have to say that waiting until you're married is the expected standard, and they can talk about HIV and AIDS or pregnancy as a medical condition, but they cannot teach how to prevent those things from happening. A lot of them do not teach birth control, or they may teach how it works, but they cannot tell you where to go to get them. They cannot tell you any more information about making it available to young people. I'm not the authority on this. The problem arises in that kids are not receiving the whole picture in school either, as far as risks, responsibilities, actions they can take in order to protect themselves. They're being given one message, which is wait until you're married. This does not work for everyone. It's a very one-sided approach and, consequently, kids are not being informed at school. It's not being talked about in the home because parents are not there, they're working, or they are embarrassed, and so kids are looking to TV for the answers. TV is in a unique position because it offers a window. Kids look at it as a window to the adult world, whether it's realistic or not, and they are picking up on cues and behaviors and all of that from TV. If we can work with TV, we try very hard not to infringe on a writer's creative vision for his/her show but rather to say, if you are planning a sexual encounter or even discussion of sex on your show, could you think about portraying the risks and responsibilities as well, or somehow incorporating the other side to this message? We very much respect their creative vision, and I am not a television writer and I'm very much in awe of the creativity in the city of Los Angeles and these people who come up with wonderful stories on a weekly basis. I would not pretend to be able to tell them how to do their job, but to keep them informed and to encourage them to let us see a condom, or let us hear two young people talking about their decision to become sexually active. Things like that that don't change the story but enhance it.
Moderator: Does your influence also cover music videos? Are there any current statistics about the effects of these videos on teenagers' behavior?
Langrall-Folb: We extend the SHINE awards to music videos, and some years I get music video submissions and some years I get none. My services are extended to anyone in the entertainment industry. However, we have found that 99.9% of our clientele are TV writers and producers. I can't say that a lot of our attention is directed there. I would love to be able to create a whole project that's aimed just at music video. Music video is a different beast completely. TV, they have to come up with a story once a week. Music video comes from the artist's song, and that song came from their soul and it wasn't on a deadline. It's a different process.
Moderator: It seems that more and more partial nudity and risqu? scenes have made their way into prime time programming. Has there been an easing of television guidelines for what can be shown on TV, and if so, where do you see television in five years? Ten years?
Langrall-Folb: Certainly anyone who's watched TV for the last ten or 15 years or longer has seen a change in portrayals, even just the language has -- they've allowed a lot more language that was never allowed in the past, as well as nudity. I don't know if it's written down anywhere with the networks, because that's not really my field, but certainly there's been a loosening of some of the restrictions, either for shock value or ratings, or I feel it's probably more because the networks feel they are in competition with cable, and so they have to push the envelope to get the viewers.
Moderator: What is your opinion about television shows which use twenty-somethings to portray teenagers in high school? Is this damaging to our youth who seem to increasingly portray themselves as older and more mature than they are?
Langrall-Folb: Studies show us that young people generally aspire to the next level, to the next generation. A 12-year-old or a 13-year-old would be most attracted to a show that portrays 17- and 18-year-olds. A 17-year-old would be more interested in a show that portrays college kids. They're always looking a notch beyond. Young people do that. They look at the next generation as a window for what's it going to be like when I get there. We found that with a TV show like "Felicity," which deals with a young woman in college, the majority of her viewers are high school students. We do see that young people sort of aspire to the next level and that's what they like to watch.