- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Robert Peters of New York was standing in the checkout line at his local grocery store one day with his teen-age children and he happened to look over at the magazines on display.

"I'm at the checkout line with my teens, and here it was: 'How to heat up your man's thighs,' " Mr. Peters says. "What a great message, I thought. Here I am, buying my food with my teens, and this is what I and my kids have been exposed to."

Mr. Peters did more than just shake his head. The president of Morality in Media, a New York-based nonprofit organization that fights obscenity and indecency in the media, took action.

He started a campaign last fall to persuade Kroger, the national grocery-store chain, to install "blinder" racks for Cosmopolitan magazine, which routinely features racy headlines on its covers and discusses orgasms and sexual positions. Blinder racks allow only the magazine's masthead to be seen.

In December, Kroger agreed to begin installing blinder racks in all its 2,300 stores.

"The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive," Kroger spokesman Gary Rhodes says. "We've received thousands of letters, e-mail messages and phone calls congratulating us for taking that stand. It's going very well."

Most parents aren't heads of national advocacy groups like Mr. Peters, but they still worry about the influences of pornography in the mainstream media and wonder what they can do to stem a seemingly unstoppable surge.

Ann Simonton, an ex-fashion model and president of Media Watch in Santa Cruz, Calif., says parents should be as close to their children as possible and remain their confidants for discussions on sex.

"That is strangely difficult for parents, given how much sex is in society right now," Ms. Simonton says. "It doesn't make sense. We're so surrounded by it, but people are afraid to have any kind of attitude toward it."

Bob Waliszewski, manager of Focus on the Family's youth culture department, says parents need to "get into their teen's entertainment world." He suggests parents quiz themselves on their children's favorite movies, TV shows and music CDs.

"If parents can't answer those questions, they're out of touch," Mr. Waliszewski says. "We live in a busy world, and parents are both working in many cases. It seems like parents are barely above water, timewise. But even though we live in a busy world, we can't live life like, 'I got through [the teen years], my teen will.' "

University of Michigan psychology professor L. Monique Ward recently wrote a study on the impact of the media on young adults' views of sex, for which she interviewed 314 men and women between the ages of 18 and 20. Ms. Ward says her study found that young people who watch a lot of television tend to view sex as more of a game than as part of a serious relationship. Parents, therefore, should help their children be "critical consumers" of media, she says.

"Don't [let them] assume everyone is sleeping together," Ms. Ward says. "Parents need to be aware of the kinds of messages that are being put out on everyday shows, not just the hard-core cable shows. We don't want our children buying into a standard that's not realistic just to sell a product."

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