. Generation M
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Researchers have begun to ask serious questions about the impact of all this television watching, especially because television is so inundated with sexuality and sexual stereotypes. For example, children are very concerned with gender roles, and they often see the world in terms of “boy’s” behavior and “girl’s” behavior. As we discussed in Chapter 3, children are taught early to behave in gender-appropriate ways, and they quickly begin to tease other children who do not follow these stereotypes (such as effeminate boys). Still, research shows that when children are exposed to books or films that portray nonstereotyped gender behaviors, their gender stereotypes are reduced (Comstock & Paik, 199l).
Historically, many children’s shows lacked positive female role models and offered stereotyped portrayals of men and women. For example, although Sesame Street has had a human cast of mixed ethnicities and genders and even a number of female muppets, its most notable muppet figures (from Kermit to Bert and Ernie to Big Bird to the Count) have all been male. It was only with the introduction of Zoe in 1993 that a female mup – pet managed to gain a high profile.
Television executives argue that boys will not watch cartoons with a female lead, but girls will watch cartoons with a male lead, and so it makes more economic sense to produce cartoons featuring males. The result is that it is hard for young girls to find good gender role models in cartoons. It is understandable that researchers have found that more television viewing is correlated with greater sexual stereotyping in certain groups of children (Gunter & McAleer, 1990). However, today the situation is improving, with Blue’s Clues (Blue is a girl), Dora the Explorer, and Bob the Builder (Wendy, Bob’s sidekick, is more handy than Bob).
One might also wonder what effect television has on the developing sexuality of children and adolescents. We know that sex is a common theme on many television programs today. How does this affect the sexual behavior of teens? Research has shown that increasing sexual content on television is related to early sexual initiation in adolescents (Collins et al., 2004). Teens who watch a lot of television are likely to believe their peers are sexually active. One study found that the more hours of television teens watched, the more likely they were to perceive their peers as being sexually active (Eggermont, 2005).
Question: Most kids today know all about sex at an early age. So why are people so uptight about showing nudity on television? What do they think it will do to their kids?
Even in a society like ours, which has begun to discuss sex more openly, it is still a difficult subject for children to understand. Many parents believe that it is their job to introduce the topic to their children, to explain it to them, and to teach their children whatever values the parents believe are appropriate. This may be undermined when children see fairly uncensored sexuality on television, which is usually shown without any discussion of values and without any way to address the children’s questions about what they are seeing. In the accompanying Sex in Real Life, "Generation M," we talk about research on the media consumption habits of children and teenagers.