GMA: Children Overly-Exposed to Sex

ByABC News via logo
April 8, 2001, 4:17 PM

N E W   Y O R K,  April 9 -- Sex is nothing new to American kids. Pre-teens can sing along with pop-star Britney Spears' suggestive lyrics; they laugh when movie character Austin Powers meets a seductress named Ivana Humpalot.

Long before they can read, today's children are bombarded with sexual images in their music, on television and in movies. And if you think children aren't affected, think again, one expert says.

"Children can't fully understand sex," says education professor Diane Levin, "or how it's attached to relationships."

Levin, author of Remote Control Childhood? Combating the Hazards of Media Culture, has studied the effects of media on children's development for over 20 years. She believes that a barrage of sexual information too early confuses children.

"Children are seeing these images at a time when they're struggling to figure out what does it mean to be a boy? What does it mean to be a girl?," she says. "What does it mean to have interaction between males and females?"

Full-Time Preoccupation

According to a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American child spends more than 38 hours a week on video games, music, TV, reading and their computers nearly the equivalent of a full-time job.

And the report notes that 68 percent of the material the children watch contains sexual content, up from 56 percent just two years ago.

"The kind of increased sexual images that children are seeing in the media and in their toys has a parallel with when they get a little older," Levin says. "They start becoming sexually active earlier."

In fact, research shows that during the 1970s and '80s, an increasing proportion of kids were having sex in their early teens. By the mid-'90s, more than 24 percent of girls and 27 percent of boys had had intercourse by age 15.

The Meaning of 'Sexy'

Even if they see their kids watching sexual images or mouthing the words to racy songs, some parents assume that sexual messages are lost on young children.