Media Sex & Violence: How much are teens seeing?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Media Sex & Violence

MPAA Ratings PosterHow much explicit media are young people consuming?

That’s the next question raised by religion newswriter David Briggs in his reporting on the negative impact of sexy and violent media on young adults’ religious values. Is this really a widespread concern? Are teens and 20-somethings widely exposed to this stuff?

The answer: Yes, they sure are.

In his columns on these issues, Briggs reports on studies showing that most college students do encounter pornography online, not a surprising finding. But what about younger-than-college-age teens? According to the National Studies of Youth and Religion’s widespread interviews in 2003 with teens aged 13 to 17, the vast majority of the young people in that age range said they were not looking at online pornography. The surveyed teens may have been truthful about that question—the researchers didn’t check these kids’ internet histories.

But—these teens certainly weren’t shy about admitting the prevalence of R-rated movies. Of the 13-to-17-year-old group studied by the Youth and Religion researchers, only 13 percent of these kids said they had seen no R-rated movies! Most of these teens told researchers they were regularly watching R-rated films.

That’s in sharp contrast with the clear indication of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) that “children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or legal guardian.” According to the MPAA, families are supposed to be researching films and only rarely allowing anyone under 17 to see these movies.

Obviously, that’s not the case.

David Briggs points out that further research is needed on this whole range of issues. Questions remain about the actual levels of consumption by young people in each age range—and whether the content is only questionable or is flatly pornographic. There are many questions yet to be answered. However, the data suggest so far that huge amounts of explicit media are being consumed by Americans from early teens through the early 20s.

What do you think of these findings?

Do they seem reasonable based on the lives of young people you know?

Are you concerned about this apparent trend?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Series Navigation<< Media Sex & Violence: What’s at stake for young adults?Sex & violence aside, the Internet may help youth ministry >>


  1. David Briggs says

    Thank you, Wayne, for all you do to help us reflect on ethical issues in your important column. And thanks to the previous commenters for their insights.

    If I may contribute to the conversation, would share that in researching and writing articles on this topic, find myself going back to think about the decisions I make in choosing media. There is such a difference in reading literature that feeds the spirit with a greater understanding of our shared humanity and the possibilities of our becoming more compassionate and loving human beings, and the temptation to watch shows that basically feed revenge fantasies or present distorted views of sexuality.

    Whatever age we are, the media choices we make a difference in how we live our lives. Thank you, Wayne, for taking this week, to help us examine our responsibility in responding to this challenge.

  2. D says

    Conversations about media consumption often center on effects and frequency, and rightly so, but it seems that many mainstream media sources discuss the topic without recognizing the role parents are supposed to play in this process. After all, parental guidance suggested (PG) would imply a need for parent involvement, but people sometimes forget that. At the end of the day, since this media isn’t going anywhere, it’s important for consumers, teenagers and children alike to approach the media from an appropriate angle and understand the line between media and real life.