TUESDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- The nation's leading group of pediatricians has issued a strong policy statement directed toward pediatricians, parents and the media on the danger of messages American teens and children are getting about sex from television, the Internet and other media outlets.
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The statement, Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media, was published online Aug. 30 and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics.
"The media represents arguably the leading sex educator in America today," said Dr. Victor Strasburger, the lead author of the paper. "We do such a poor job of educating kids about sex in sex education classes in school, and parents are notoriously shy about talking to kids about sex. The media picks up the slack."
Seventy percent of teen shows contain sexual content, Strasburger added, "and less than 10% of that content involves what anyone would classify as being responsible content. There's no mention of contracting an STD [sexually transmitted disease] or the need to wait to have sex until later."
The United States leads the western world in teen pregnancy rates and American teens have an alarmingly high rate of STDs -- one in four children.
Meanwhile, U.S. children spend seven hours and more a day with various types of often-sexually explicit media, including music, movies, television shows, magazines and the Internet.
"The research shows us that the portrayal of sex in the media is really unrealistic. It's unhealthy. It doesn't consider the consequences of sexual behavior," said Alan Delamater, professor and director of child psychology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "This is what our kids are growing up thinking. This is what sex is about. To deny its impact is ignorant because there's so much knowledge of it at this point."
Many pediatricians would like to flip the equation and see media outlets introduce more responsible programming.
"Media has an opportunity to continue doing the same old thing, which is to have an adverse effect on child development, or turn it around and shape attitudes and behavior that could have a positive effect on child development," Delamater said.
The statement contains a number of recommendations for parents, physicians and the media.
"We want physicians to ask two media questions at every well-child visit: how much entertainment screen time per day does the child engage in, and is there a TV set or Internet connection in his or her bedroom," said Strasburger, professor of pediatrics at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine. "That takes 20 seconds and may be more important than asking about childproofing or car seats or bicycle helmets."
The authors of the statement ideally would like ads for erectile dysfunction drugs to not be shown on TV until after 10 p.m.
"Half a billion dollars of ads for erectile dysfunction drugs and virtually no ads for birth control pills or condoms or emergency contraception," Strasburger said. "There's not a single shred of evidence that exposing kids to birth control ads or even making birth control available to them makes them sexually active at a younger age. We're doing things completely backwards."
There should also be more attention paid to how kids use social networking sites on the Internet. And parents can use media story lines as teaching tools to discuss sex with their children, instead of having "the big talk," the statement said.
On the more idealistic side, the statement also recommends that advertisers no longer use sex to sell a wide range of products.
"We want parents to realize that kids are spending more time with media than in any other activity but sleeping, and that the media represents a powerful source of information and in this case a powerful sex educator," Strasburger said.
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SOURCES: Victor C. Strasburger, M.D., professor, pediatrics, University of New Mexico School of Medicine, Albuquerque; Alan Delamater, Ph.D., professor and director, child psychology, University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; Aug. 30, 2010, Pediatrics, online