While parents and teachers worry and worry about MySpace, two recent studies suggest that there are far more pernicious influences on kids.
A Rand Corp.study on raunchy music lyrics found that kids who listen to music with degrading sexual content were much more likely to have teenage sex. AP reports:
Among heavy listeners, 51 percent started having sex within two years, versus 29 percent of those who said they listened to little or no sexually degrading music.
Exposure to lots of sexually degrading music "gives them a specific message about sex," said lead author Steven Martino, a researcher for Rand Corp. in Pittsburgh. Boys learn they should relentlessly pursue women, and girls learn to view themselves as sex objects, he said.
"We think that really lowers kids' inhibitions and makes them less thoughtful" about sexual decisions and may influence them to make decisions they regret, he said.
An earlier study by the University of North Carolina's Teen Media Center looked at all sexual content in music, not just raunchy lyrics, and came up with similar findings (PDF, published in Pediatrics). Kids who listen to a lot of sexual content when 12-14 were twice as likely to have sex between 14 and 16 as kids who were not exposed to much sexual media.
Speaking on NPR's Talk of the Nation, researcher Carol Pardun emphasized that while kids may occassionally encounter porn online, they are being exposed to sexual content in media almost continually - and it's that exposure which is forming their expectations that early, relationship-free sex is the norm.
Pornography always looks wrong and dirty. Like Justice Brennan said, you know it when you see it. But in TV, videogames, music and even fashion, the media culture is shaping kids' sense of normality, of what adults do and how they act. And if sex sells, they media companies will sell sex. Which increasingly leaves it to parents and schools to try to counteract the messages.
No wonder, then, that teacher Andrew McNamar was troubled by his teenage students dressing like "sluts," while the girls themselves were shocked and hurt by this characterization. To them, they were just dressing in style. To him, their dress presaged nothing good.