Does the Media Negatively Affect Teenagers?

The next time a teen is responsible for a widely publicized violent act, someone is certain to wonder if violent video games played some part. The answer is almost certainly not so simplistic, yet it is naive to ignore the influence that media has on the lives of teens. A growing body of research indicates that yes, media does influence teenagers, and not in a positive manner.


Images that were considered racy 100 years ago are now par for the course in magazines, commercials and other forms of media. Sexual content has become ubiquitous in the media is used to sell products and increase ratings. A landmark study published by the Rand Corporation in 2004 found that watching television shows with sexual content is associated with earlier teen engagement in sexual activity 2. Very few of the sexual acts portrayed in the media address the consequences that can arise from this activity. This negligence provides teens with a distorted view of reality.


By the time a person is 18, he will have witnessed approximately 200,000 violent acts, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, whose experts point out that a strong correlation exists between exposure to television violence and aggressive behavior. Teens are exposed to even more violent images when they watch movies, surf the Internet and play video games in which brutality is rewarded. The result is desensitization to violence.


Advertisers, whose ads are part of almost all media that teens consume, view teens as consumers. As a result, youth are bombarded with commercial messages. In their book "The Other Parent: The Inside Story of the Media's Effect on Our Children," James Steyer and Chelsa Clinton point out that television executives rarely watch the shows they produce for children, instead focusing entirely on profit 1. The result is media that does not take teen's well-being into account, but targets them for the consumption of goods that may or may not be beneficial to them. A teen's focus on obtaining the latest and greatest technology, clothing and snack food might not be related to a genuine desire at all, but rather to the desire to keep up with a false reality created by the media.

Body Image

The National Eating Disorders Association points out that the average fashion model is thinner than 98 percent of women. Teens are exposed to such unrealistic imagery in the media on a continual basis, whether they're watching a commercial, reading a magazine or playing a video game featuring a male character with a distorted musculature. As advertisers work to build brand loyalty for products as varied as shoes and toothpaste, teens are encouraged to place more importance on their appearance than is perhaps healthy for a balanced life.