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Monkey See, Monkey Do

The media was buzzing early this week with news about one of those shockingly obvious studies people like to carry out. In this particular study, 1,792 adolescents aged 12 to 17 were interviewed by psychologists about their television viewing habits and their sexual activity. Lo and behold, kids who watch a large amount of television containing sexual content are twice as likely to engage in sexual intercourse than those who do not. They are also much more likely to participate in sexual activities short of intercourse.

The study does not say what constitutes “television containing sexual content” but clearly this would include most primetime television programming – including sitcoms. Apparently the average child in this age group watches approximately three hours of television per day, the bulk of which is in primetime. This in turn means that almost every teen is glued to the television between 8 PM and 10 PM. One researcher said “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.” So by tuning down the sexual content even a little bit, television programmers could make a significant impact on the purity of teenagers.

But there is more. “The 12-year-olds who watched a lot of sexual content behaved like the 14- or 15-years-olds who watched the least amount. ‘The advancement in sexual behavior we saw among kids who watched a lot of sexual television was striking.’” In other words, by exposing your children to large amounts of television, you will be advancing their sexual behavior by up to three years. And before you try to rationalize your favorite show which really doesn’t “show” anything, the study found “that shows where sex was talked about but not depicted had just as much impact as the more explicit shows.”

The conclusion of the study was that television programming “affect[s] adolescents’ perceptions of what is normal sexual behavior and propels their own sexual behavior.” Or as the title of this post says, monkey see, monkey do.

I despise television. I hate having my children exposed to things that even I have no right to see. I hate hearing my children repeat words and imitate behavior they see on television. I hate it so much that I am continually surprised that I continue to have one in the house. As a child I never had a television. The entire time I was growing up I would hear my friends talk about their TV shows and the things they had seen, but I never felt left out. I truly didn’t care. When my wife and I first married we had no television – and didn’t miss it. As a matter of fact, it wasn’t until my wife became pregnant with my son that we got a TV. And since we have one, we watch it.

Several weeks ago we sat down to watch a family movie. We chose Shrek, popped it in the DVD player and sat back to watch. For some reason we watched the movie with the closed captioning on, so I was able to read the entire script. I was absolutely shocked by how much innuendo there was in that movie. For a movie aimed at children it contained far too many double entendres and barely-noticable rude one-liners. Since then my son has often asked to see the movie again, usually when we are at someone else’s house (since we don’t own it) and I have always refused to allow him.

When I read studies like this one, I realize just how much television shapes our children. And believe it or not, it shapes adults too. I have little doubt that I have been hardened to many kinds of sin that just a few years ago would have shocked me. But continued exposure has forced me to make light of sin. It is shocking. Discouraging.

Some days I am tempted to throw out the baby with the bathwater and put a hammer through the TV. Perhaps some day I will. It would certainly remove the ongoing struggle to moderate what I watch and what my children watch. Even the most innocent sounding shows and movies seem to be full of sin these days! At the same time, I would love to be able to say that we have “taken control” of the television and are no longer tempted to watch things we shouldn’t and that our children watch nothing more than Blues Clues while they eat their breakfast. The hammer would certainly be the easy way out!


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