Many parents have heard â€” or voiced â€” worries about children growing up too fast in todays world.
According to a recent study released by the Parents Television Council, one of the causes for this may be found on the prime-time television shows children watch, particularly when it comes to girls.
In the study titled, Tinseltowns New Target: A Study of Teen Female Sexualization on Primetime TV, the PTC examined episodes for 14 different scripted shows, including The Vampire Diaries, The Office, Desperate Housewives, Family Guy and Glee. Using the American Psychological Associations definition of healthy sexuality, the PTC documented the sexualized images being shown on these shows.
A Fox News report states that data from the study shows underage female characters on TV shows participating in an even higher percentage of sexual situations than adult counterparts.
According to the study, 98 percent of sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of a committed relationship. The report also notes that 73 percent of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as the punch line of a joke, using laughter to desensitize and trivialize topics that might normally be viewed as disturbing.
The results from this report show Tinseltowns eagerness to not only objectify and fetishize young girls, but to sexualize them in such a way that real teens are led to believe their sole value comes from their sexuality, PTC President Tim Winter said. This report is less about the shocking numbers that detail the sickness of early sexualization in our entertainment culture and more about the generation of young girls who are being told how society expects them to behave.
In an interview with CNN, Nicole Clark, a spokeswoman for The Parent Television Council and a former model, said girls as young as 7 or 8 are being exposed to media images of girls being sexualized through the shows they watch.
The issue of appropriate behaviors and actions as shown on TV has existed for almost as long as the medium itself. Its also a debate not limited to the United States.
On Dec. 6, The UKs prime minister, David Cameron, ordered an independent review into whether retailers and broadcasters should be subject to new restrictions preventing them from selling sexualized products aimed at children.
In Australia, actress and activist Noni Hazlehurst is leading a push to break the nations television classifications into subgroups that reflect different stages of learning and comprehension.
To group all kids in an amorphous group as being Kids is wrong, she said in an Oct. interview with Australias TV Tonight blog I think an awful lot of what passes as Young Childrens Television is contributing to what are now becoming buzzwords: the premature sexualization of children and adultification of children.
In the U.S., stars of the TV show Glee were criticized for a GQ magazine spread that showed them posing seductively in a high school setting.
Katie Couric took to the airwaves on her Notebook to state that she was also disappointed in the photos. As a Glee fan who watches with her 14-year-old daughter, she said, These very adult photos of young women who perform in a family show just seem so un-Glee-like.
Dianna Agron, one of the stars who posed for the shoot, later apologized to fans and viewers on her blog. However, in the post, Agron also stated that, If your 8-year-old has a copy of our GQ cover in hand, again I am sorry. But I would have to ask, how on earth did it get there?
Parents understand that all programming is not for all children and, according to polling conducted solely among parents, take seriously their efforts to ensure their children view what is appropriate based on their age, taste and values, TV Watch said in a statement. What is increasingly difficult to take seriously, is a patchwork of studies characterized by vagaries and omissions, apparently intended to raise money because the group has the word 'Parents' in its name."
However, one of the concerns discussed in the study is the lack of warning for families when TV shows include sexual content.
The TV networks really stick it to families by leaving off the S descriptor to warn them about this type of sexual content a shocking 75 percent of the time, Winters said.
Instead of asking for more warnings, though, the PTC is seeking increased action from parents, actors and advertisers to instigate change.
To any parent of a pre-tee or teenage girl, the harm of sexualized imagery is readily apparent, Winters said. We cannot allow our daughters, not to mention boys and adult men, to accept the message that women should be valued only for their sex appeal.
In the New York Daily News Winters said the point of the study was not to single out television stations or TV shows for their content, but rather to act as an industrywide plea.
This is a study for every girl, the report states. Our message is plain and simple. We are greatly concerned and are asking the question, What can be done to make a positive and lasting difference?
In a Good Morning American interview focusing on the PTC study, Ann Pleshette Murphy, GMAs parenting contributor, said the study is about girls being treated as sex objects and being defined narrowly in sexual behavior.
Theres a lot of research well beyond this study that shows that having a body image that is very negative it affects a childs, a girls in particular â€” and this is all about girls â€” body image, their self-esteem, their self-confidence, Pleshette said. Its associated with, of course, eating disorders, depression and it also affects how you think.
She encouraged parents to watch shows with their children and to discuss what was shown.
Talk to your daughters and your sons â€” this is very important to talk to boys â€” about how sex is something special. Its something that we want to have happen in the context of an intimate loving relationship, and these are not messages theyre getting on television.
Other tips for parents worried about the early sexualization of children are included on the PTC website. These tips, from the American Psychological Association, include tuning into the media used by your children, questioning choices made by your children and being willing to speak up when you dont approve.
In a familycircle.com article entitled, Girls Growing Up Too Fast, Deborah Swaney also suggests cutting back on TV consumption, helping children explore talents and interests, monitoring Web choices and promoting other kinds of idols.
More information and research on the sexualization of girls can be found on the American Psychological Association Task Force on the Sexualization of Girls website.