8 March 2017

Africa: How Parental Television Viewing Affects Teens Sexual Behaviour

Photo: Namibia Economist
(File photo).

Television programmes can influence the perceptions and behaviours of adolescents either negatively or positively. But if unregulated they can cause harm. The Conversation Africa's Health and Medicine Editor Joy Wanja Muraya spoke to Sammy Yaah Baya about its impact.

How is television viewing likely to influence the sexual behaviour of the youth and adolescents?

In our study we set out to look at whether adolescents get information about sex from television programmes.

About a quarter (25.9%) of the adolescents interviewed said they did.

Another 37.9% reported that they first learnt about sex while watching television.

On perceptions about the televised content, 62.9% said sex was portrayed in TV as exciting while another 20.6% said that it was fun.

About 12.9% indicated that sex was presented as glamorous while a small fraction - 0.3% - had a negative perception of sex and they rated it as bad.

None of the respondents said that sex was portrayed as dangerous even when presented with consequences like exposure to sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy.

The adolescents interviewed also said that they were more likely to initiate sex after watching it from implied sexual scenes on TV.

Does it make a difference if teens and adolescents watch television with their parents?

Entertainment shows on television can have two positive effects on teens. They can convey accurate messages about sexual risks and they can act as a catalyst for conversations with adults that can reinforce those messages.

Co-viewing television is a good idea. This is because parents can be key agents in shaping adolescents' sexual behaviours. On top of this, research shows that teens are likely to turn to the media for answers to their questions about what's sexually acceptable. Television can influence sexual behaviour because parents are known to provide very little information about sex.

Parents watching television with their children without discussing the content can communicate that parents have a positive attitude towards the content being watched. This in turn leads children to pay closer attention and to learn from programmes that they watch with their parents.

The research showed that television with sexual content can be a catalyst for conversations about sex between parents and teens. And it can reduce the negative effects of sexual content because it leads to an open discussion. Parents are often hesitant to talk to their teens about sex because they don't want to believe that their kids are having sex.

What do young people think about watching television with parents and guardians?

Previous studies have shown that adolescents find their parents controlling and that they're dissatisfied with the half baked information they get, often in the form of a lecture on sex.

This study found out that almost half of the youth interviewed - 43.3% - watch TV everyday with their parents or guardians.

About 17% watch TV most days with their parents or guardians while 25% of the respondents watch TV with their parents or guardians less often and 11.8% never watch TV with their parents or guardian.

It's interesting to note that slightly more than a quarter of the adolescents interviewed - 26.8% - are not allowed to watch TV with a lot of sexual activity content. And some teens had curfews placed on them, particularly for late night television viewing.

This study found out that adolescents who never watched television with their parents were most likely to engage in early sexual intercourse.

What's the role of parents in shaping their behaviours and attitudes towards sex

Parents play an important role in shaping the sexual behaviour of adolescents.

For example, parental attitudes towards premarital sex strongly influences whether an adolescent will engage in sex earlier or whether they will delay.

Adolescents who reported more positive communication with their parents were more likely to delay the initiation of vaginal intercourse than those who reported more negative communication with their parents.

Effective communication and positive parental relationships also are associated with fewer pregnancies.

But parental attitudes towards sexuality can't be conveyed effectively to adolescents without constant follow-up parent-child communication.

What tips do you have for parents and adolescents?

To shield young people from the negative effects of sexual content on television young people should be taught to interpret what they watch.

And parents should watch television with their teenage children and discuss their own beliefs about sex and the behaviours portrayed.

It's also important that the amount of time adolescents watch television should be regulated to less than two hours a day.

Beyond the home, public policy and interventions should be designed in a way that helps young people make informed choices about their sexual health.

Disclosure statement

Sammy Yaah Baya does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.


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