It’s so easy to block out prevailing cultural norms

This week, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement, Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media, that was published online and in the September print issue of the journal Pediatrics. The barrage of inappropriate and damaging exposure the AAP discusses in this report is one of the key problems that drove me to start writing this blog.

But some comments posted here and there in the blogosphere in response include parents of young children smugly noting that one could simply “turn off the tv.” Yes, I guess I should stop using the TV as a babysitter for my teen and pre-teen children. That’s very helpful advice. Also, I should never have taken them out of the house to the grocery store due to the salacious covers on magazines. We should never have gone into the city to see a play or concert because of the billboards with half-naked couples simulating sex and the taxicab ads from Comcast asking, “Wanna hook-up?” It was a mistake to let them watch even a baseball or football game on TV, or the World Cup, because of the ads for Victoria’s Secret or Bachelor Pad. I never should have let them visit a friend’s house on their own or even talk to a friend outside of my presence.

Also, never should have taken the kids on all those airplane trips to visit their grandparents to ensure they could establish a close family bond despite the distance.

Here’s a copy of the letter I wrote to an airline on Feb. 8, 2007 regarding the overhead inflight entertainment that I did not have the power to turn off:

Recently I took my two boys, ages 7 and 10 on a flight to California. I wonder if you have any idea how inappropriate the television entertainment is for children, and how difficult and uncomfortable it makes my flight?

Here is a run down on what we were subjected to:

A snippet of a show with extremely suggestive dancing and skimpy outfits.

CSI ad showing dead bodies and gruesome body scenes.

Disturbing ad for a show about a missing child.

Several more ads featuring people aiming guns.

Extended scene from Three’s Company with one character listening at the door to what sounds like a sexual encounter between the other two: “Not on the table, Jack!”

How I Met Your Mother episode in which the premise is who is going to have sex with the main character, featuring dialogue such as “ I was hoping to finally have sex with you this weekend.” Also, a scene in a strip club.

King of Queens sitcom with frequent sexual innuendo and talk of sex.

Frazier episode which includes subplot of hiring a stripper to do a lap dance.

This is not the kind of thing I want my children exposed to. It’s not the first time I have been disgusted by the entertainment offerings on the flights. I would hope that you would consider that the inflight entertainment should be appropriate for all ages.

(Here by the way is their lame-brained response: “We take this issue very seriously. We require editing to remove inappropriate scenes and language to make the entertainment acceptable for general viewing before we will agree to show them. In fact, our edit standards are more stringent than those used by the television networks when they edit movies for television audiences. Nevertheless, there may be an occasional scene that is objectionable to some customers and I have shared your perspective with our Managing Director of Inflight Products.)

The AAP report finds that this stuff does not go over their heads. Expecially not when it’s repeated over and over. They learn. Kids learn language by hearing it repeated. If they keep hearing men talking about going to bed with a girlfriend and her sister at the same time (as my young boys heard on another airplane trip from the sleazy Two and a Half Men sitcom), they start to pick up that the adults are talking about something interesting and they should pay attention. And images make a stronger impression than mere words.

The AAP says that early sexual intercourse among American adolescents represents a major public health problem, and while there may be a combination of factors causing this, the media are likely playing a significant role.

“American media are thought to be the most sexually suggestive in the Western Hemisphere. The average American adolescent will view nearly 14,000 sexual references per year, yet only 165 of these references deal with birth control, self-control, abstinence, or the risk of pregnancy or STDs. In a recent content analysis, 56% of all programs on American television were found to contain sexual content. The so-called “family hour” of prime-time television (8:00 to 9:00 PM) contains on average more than 8 sexual incidents, which is more than 4 times what it contained in 1976. Nearly one third of family-hour shows contain sexual references, and the incidence of vulgar language is also increasing.”

American pediatricians are sounding the alarm. It makes a lot of sense to listen up.

The abstract from American Academy of Pediatrics

The AAP news release with recommendations

The HealthDay article

Common Sense Media’s discussion of the topic

My series on how TV broadcasters undermine parents


  1. Do you have On-Demand at home? The previews for the programming play while you try to find the show you want and the violence is on *all* the time. So while I try to turn on Kipper the Dog, the cutest show in the world, for my three-and-a-half year old, we could very easily get a preview of someone bashing a board into someone's face. It's ridiculous.

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