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PTC Report on Sexualization of Teenage Girls on Television

posted by Nell Minow

The Parents Television Council released a new report today on the portrayal of teenage girls on television.
The report, ??Tinseltown’s New Target: A Study of Teen Female Sexualization on Prime-Time TV, is based on a content analysis of the most popular television shows for viewers ages 12-17 in the 2009-2010 season. “Girls as young as five wanting to be sexy are being robbed of their childhood,” said former model Nicole Clark, whose documentary “Cover Girl Culture” exposes the detrimental influence of media on children’s self-image. She added that she hears parents talk about their fears of sexual predators but they dress their little girls to emphasize their sexuality and allow them to watch unsupervised media “We wonder why America has the highest teen pregnancy rate and teen STD rate of all the developed nations.” It is especially troubling that the influence of these images is apparent on younger and younger children.
Every parent should look at this report and consider carefully how to protect both boys and girls from these media portrayals, how to talk to them to minimize the impact of what they do see, and how to respond to the PTC’s call to action to let broadcasters and advertisers know that this is unacceptable.
The PTC says:
Clearly, there are inherent dangers in having a cultural milieu that accepts and encourages this sexual contradiction of encouraging underage girls to look sexy, yet realizing they know very little about what it means to be sexual.
Of equal concern is the lack of experience teenagers have in making rational and responsible decisions within intimate relationships. For years, scholars have recognized that teens may be particularly vulnerable to media influence. Several studies report the negative impact that frequent exposure to sexualized media images and models of passivity can cause, ranging from eating disorders and depression to sexual risk-taking. There is a chord that is struck with every parent when understanding the devastating impact these sexual images and messages have on the cognitive, emotional, and physical development as well as the self-image of the average young girl well before they reach the stage of exhibiting these more outwardly recognizable disorders. Further, research shows that girls and young women who consume more mainstream media content demonstrate greater acceptance of stereotypes that depict women as sexual objects , and earlier initiation of sexual behaviors.
The impact of teen sexualization in the media is exacerbated by the continual increases in media usage among teens. A recent report revealed that children are spending more time than ever before consuming entertainment media -more than 75 hours a week. These rates indicate that teens are spending nearly twice as much time viewing media than they spend in school and 1/3 more time than they spend sleeping. This increase is due, in large part, to devices that allow children to access media content away from the traditional confines of the television and movie screen.
The report concludes that when underage female characters appear on screen: more sexual content is depicted; the teen girls show next to no negative response to being sexualized; more sexual incidents occur outside of any form of a committed relationship; and there is less accuracy in the TV content rating.
It found:

Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adults (47% and 29% respectively).

Only 5% of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized (excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality).

Out of all the sexualized female characters depicted in the underage and young adult category for the entire database, 86% were presented as only being of high school age.

Seventy-five percent of shows that included sexualized underage female characters were shows that did not have an “S” descriptor to warn parents about the sexual content.

Based upon a definition established by the American Psychological Association of “healthy” vs. “unhealthy” sexuality, the study findings show that 93% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred within a context that qualified as “unhealthy.”

The data revealed that 98% of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred outside of any form of a committed relationship.

The data show that 73% of the underage sexualized incidents were presented in a humorous manner or as a punch line to a joke.


According to the American Psychological Association (APA), Sexualization (as opposed to healthy sexuality) occurs when:
• a person’s value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or sexual behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics;
• a person is held to a standard that equates physical attractiveness (narrowly defined) with being sexy;
• a person is sexually objectified–that is, made into a thing for others’ sexual use, rather than seen as a person with the capacity for independent action and decision making; and/or
• sexuality is inappropriately imposed upon a person.



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