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Family unfriendly

"Family unfriendly" Continued...

Issue: "New breed of homeless," Feb. 28, 2009

Unlike Secret Life, Greek follows more of a comedic format, making little attempt at cultural seriousness and including none of the public service announcements urging parents to talk with their kids about sex that air at the end of the more successful show. When defending the network's new direction, Disney spokespeople seem less eager to discuss Greek. And interestingly, in releasing the show's ratings, the company groups the numbers into categories of 18-34 and 12-34 rather than breaking down the teen demographic separately, suggesting that they may be uncomfortable publicizing the specifics of the show's underage audience.

From a numbers game, ABC Family's grown-up shift in programming is succeeding. Companies favored by moms like Kohls and Target have stuck with the network in spite of its changing image, and according to TNS Media Intelligence, it has posted a 96 percent rise in ad sales over the last five years. But studies show that regardless of whether such shows are financially profitable, there is a social cost to gearing sexually charged programming toward adolescents.

According to research conducted by the independent, nonprofit firm RAND, watching television programs with sexual content not only makes teens more likely to engage in sex, but also increases the likelihood of pregnancy. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics asked 2,000 12- to 17-year-olds to keep track of the television shows they watched that contained sexual content. Those who watched a high amount of such programming were twice as likely to get pregnant or to get someone else pregnant.

Noting that sexual content on TV has doubled in recent years, behavioral scientist Anita Chandra who led the study commented, "Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy." This held true even when factors like parental involvement and economic status were accounted for. "We found a strong association. . . . Even when we removed all the other factors," Chandra stated. "We still saw a compelling link between a high exposure to sexual content on television and teen pregnancies."

A previous study by the RAND organization also found that teens who watch such programming are twice as likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the following year as those who don't. And it doesn't matter whether the programs actually depict sexual behavior or merely talk about it-according to the research, both types impact teens' sexual behavior.

Said Rebecca Collins, the psychologist who headed the 2004 study, "This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior."

Megan Basham
Megan Basham

Megan, a regular correspondent for WORLD News Group, is a writer and film critic living in Memphis, Tenn.. She is the author of Beside Every Successful Man: A Woman's Guide to Having It All.

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