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EDITORIAL: Barely legal — TV peddles teen sex to girls

The V-Chip doesn’t help because ratings aren’t accurate

- The Washington Times - Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas is a time for stories about the virgin birth and an innocent babe wrapped in swaddling clothes. On network TV, however, the babes are anything but innocent as programming pushes sex to America's youth, especially girls.

A Dec. 15 study by the Parents Television Council (PTC) warns that sexualized content continues to rise and "teen girls are becoming the prime target." The report, which analyzes the 25 prime-time shows most popular among 12- to 17-year-olds in 2009-10, distinguished between images that were merely "sexual" in some way from those that were "sexualized." The latter is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as instances in which "a person's value comes only from his or her sexual appeal or sexual behavior, to the exclusion of other characteristics" and in which "a person is sexually objectified - that is, made into a thing for others' sexual use."

Young girls are sexualized on screen almost as much as adult women. However, 29 percent of sexualized women are depicted in implied nudity or sexual behavior, whereas 47 percent of sexualized underage females are shown in actual conduct rather than mere discussions about sex. About 93 percent of sexual incidents among underage characters fit the APA's category of "unhealthy" sexuality; 98 percent of underage incidents on screen occurred within no committed relationship.

Teens are particularly susceptible to media influence. The Kaiser Family Foundation found this year that average teens spend nearly twice as much time viewing media as in school and one-third more time watching media than sleeping. The tools to monitor all this programming are practically useless.

According to the PTC, "75 percent of the shows that contained the [sexual] content did not have an S-descriptor [for 'intense sexual situations'] in the content rating." That means parents can't block shows with a V-Chip intended to help keep filth off their screens. A large part of the blame belongs to the V-Chip system, in which ratings are supplied by the networks themselves, which clearly aren't interested in restricting viewership. PTC's Dan Isett told The Washington Times the system is supposed to be monitored by the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, but the board hasn't met since the summer of 2009. Even if it did meet, the board's membership and proceedings are secret, so there are no guarantees for transparency or effectiveness.

V-Chips should be equipped with a choice of rating systems so parents can subscribe to independent, third-party groups rather than to the networks' self-interested sham. Another solution might be to get rid of the boob tube altogether.

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