Is there a Link Between TV and Teen Pregnancy?

Posted November 17, 2008 by

Photo of elisabeth

Is TV harmless, or does it encourage our kids to engage in risky behavior?

A new study out this month says that young people who frequently watch shows that depict sexual situations or conversations are twice as likely to get pregnant — or get someone else pregnant. (This is in comparison to  to kids who watch few or none of these types of programs.) In the study by the non-partisan Rand Corp., the pregnancy link was there even after accounting for factors such as delinquent behavior, those who wanted to get pregnant, and comparing kids who live in single-parent households to those with two parents present.

“Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy,” said lead researcher Anita Chandra. “We found a strong association.” The study was published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

While TV itself doesn’t cause kids to get pregnant, I can see how it would make sex seem completely risk-free. (How many episodes of TV shows have you ever seen that deal with STDs, for example, or unwanted pregnancy?) While adults have the maturity to understand what happens next, most kids just don’t have that tool at their fingertips yet.

Where do you stand with TV in your household? Do you think it’s more about parenting and less about what your kids watch on television? Do you allow your kids unlimited access, or do you screen for violence and/or sexual content? And how do you talk about it with your teen if they do happen to see something sexual on TV?


Elisabeth Wilkins was the editor of Empowering Parents and the mother of an 10-year-old son. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, including Mothering, Motherhood (Singapore), Hausfrau, The Bad Mother Chronicles, and The Japan Times. Elisabeth holds a Masters in Fine Arts in Creative Writing from the University of Southern Maine.

Popular on Empowering Parents

Reader Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Roxane (Edit) Report

    Well, I have a pregnant teen now and also rebellious and unrealistic teen. I have always felt that our television broadcasts have gotten worse as far as content. I know that what was considered R rated back when I grew up is now PG. There is a lot of sex on TV and now with Cable, Satellite, and Internet, etc. Its hard to keep it out of our living rooms. We used to have to go to the movie theater to be able to see R rated movies, and only with parents. But now parents watch this at home and its hard to prevent the kids from seeing this stuff. I always screened what my kids watched and did not allow my daughter to see R rated stuff. But what I did not realize was that it was creeping into the PG programming. She would go to a friends house and watch programs that the parents were allowing their kids to watch. Actually the public schools were allowing them to watch things like “Pearl Harbor” with Ben Affleck – saying that they were getting History!! So I am not sure I could keep it away. But I do think that our media does broadcast that sex is good for everyone. That we should all be thinking about sex. Its everywhere – magazines, newspapers, popular news, music, movies, TV, etc. The schools are so liberal nowadays, that its even in the schools (dirty dancing in Jr high, allowing kids to text even though its against policy, watching movies in grade school through high school, etc). I know it is inevitable that our teens will want to be interested in finding out more info, but what is presented is inappropriate. The music industry is very bad with the sexy dancing and skimpy clothes on the videos and the words that are used in the music. But one parent cannot fight this, as all the kids come to school with their Ipods and phones and get on the internet. I just think that parents need to step up and stop turning a blind eye to what is going on. We have the highest rate of teen pregnancies in the developed countries.

  2. StormyLynn (Edit) Report

    tina… I hope you won’t be offended, but really, I don’t think that shows like “Friends” are appropriate for children. There are shows that I really enjoy watching, like Friends, some British Comedies, etc… that are definitely not appropriate material for children of any age. Little kids should never see that kind of thing, and teenagers need it even less because it desensitizes them to things like sex and crude humor. Almost any TV and any cable/satellite service has a way to set a parental controls password and set rating limits for what you can watch without entering in the password… USE THIS POWER! I have two daughters, one in elementary school and one teenager. We have one television, with satellite service, in the living room. NO TV in bedrooms or private areas, and this one TV is set so that the maximum rating is PG-13 without a password. Even some PG-13 movies and shows are too tacky these days, but they are usually OK if you point out the problems with some of what is in the movie and make that a teaching moment. I think that some parents fall into the “being a friend instead of a parent” trap when it comes to TV… they want to watch their favorite shows with their child, or they want to be able to share the shows with the kids that the kids want to watch and that all of their friends think are cool… and it takes its toll in the attitudes that these kids develop about what is funny, cool, socially acceptable, or excusable behaviour. I find it sad when I see that the kids whose parents watched “Friends” with them have are the same kids who think it’s so important to have a boyfriend when they are 14 and be making out before they even turn 16, and are talk about people living with their girlfriend/boyfriend in college as if that is the normal, expected plan. Wow. Why didn’t their parents see that coming?

  3. matt (Edit) Report

    These days nothing is safe. I have even noticed sexual innuendo in spongebob (Mr. krabs lives in bikiki bottoms and mistaking genius for genitalia)

  4. Kid #2 (Edit) Report

    I understand that all of the parents on this site our concerned about his or hers own children. What most of you have not realized is that what you say influence your children as well. Most parents are not perfectly polite and proper when they talk and kids will pick up on that as well. You also have not realized that most of you all are talking about teaming up together and stopping “T.V. Trash” or whatever. This is not the case, for me some of the shows disgust me and actually DISCOURAGE me. Maybe if some of you showed more trust in your children as my mother does for me, you would not have this problem.

  5. kim (Edit) Report

    I feel like I have made so many mistakes. We did not allow tv on during the week when my kids were small. Now, that they are teenagers they watch MTV and a lot of other disgusting shows. I just want to give up most day.

  6. Sunymall (Edit) Report

    I definately think TV influences ALL of us, not just the kids. That’s why they use Led Zeppelin music to sell us a Cadillac – my fahter would roll over in his grave if he knew his precious icon of adulthood (Cadillac = “making it”) was associated with music he dispised.

    As for the premise stated here, up until 2006, teen pregnancy was on the decline. I think a parent’s influence on their kids is much greater than the TV. We parents need to step up and IN OUR OWN HOMES make a difference in our children’s lives instead of blaming their bad up brining on the TV.

  7. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Dear Gretchen: I am with you. My son is about to turn 7, and he’s really taken an interest in music. This is great, except, as you mentioned, the lyrics! Right now he’s at an age where we just turn the radio to a different station, but I worry about the coming years.

    I have a good article for you to read by James Lehman that might help. He says that while you can’t control what goes on outside your home, you can control what you allow to happen inside of it — it’s your safe haven, so to speak.

    P.S. You might think about making sure your daughter is in a common room while using her PC. Good luck — please keep in touch and let us know how it goes!

  8. gretchen (Edit) Report

    We didn’t have TV and almost no movies for the first ten years of my older daughters life and of course my younger daughter was exposed a bit earlier. We just got cable for the presidential debates (my girls now 14 and 18) and my older daughter is so interested in all the OC/Smallville soap type dramas. I can even get sucked in. I can’t believe what is on these. When I turn off the TV they have figured out how to watch it on the computer (Mom, I’ve got to use the PC for homework) I find it a full time job trying to monitor this crap. I also heard what my daughters friend downloaded on the ipod. Things I’ve never thought about doing with lollipops, stripper poles etc. Some of these are really mainstream songs that are just so violent and sexually explicit. Bottom line is I think freedom of speech has really hurt this generation as well as their forms (lack of) communication. I can see it especially in my younger daughter. Don’t even get me started on sexting. It is going on even with the shyest, overparented, sweet children. You can’t avoid it. I think I should get rid of the tv again but it is at neighbor, grandparents, friends, radio everywhere. Everything now is so sexually charged and explicit. What ever happened to holding hands, dating, making LOVE!! I don’t know how this rant will come off but I am a liberal, yet conservative parent that took years off to raise these kids only to sometimes feel hopeless with all these influences around I find changing this generation for the worse.

  9. Child's Opinion (Edit) Report

    Hey my mom left this website up and I just wanted to Know the parent’s point of view. Kids like myself don’t want to be “blocked off” from what happens in the fake unrealistic thinking Hollywood. Personally, when the show am watching has something to do with sex, I just immediatley know it’s not like that in life.

  10. Feeling defeated (Edit) Report

    It is difficult to look in ANY direction without being inundated with sexual messages and immoral behaviors. The bar has gotten so low it is incredible. As a parent, it is impossible to hide and filter all this from our kids, especially as they get older. When oh when will the media see that all this filth is destroying our culture and take some resonsibility?? Maybe we need to organize as parents and demand some cleaning up of the mess. We sure can’t get anyone’s attention as individuals.
    Freedom of speech has become an excuse to degrade everything from family values to the value of human beings themselves.

  11. Elisabeth Wilkins, EP Editor (Edit) Report

    Helga, I would get rid of the cable. You can do it! I think these kinds of shows really influence kids in ways they don’t understand right now. It makes really dangerous or risky situations seem OK…and that’s really not OK. I think you know the answer already, so I would just follow through on your instincts and brace yourself for some screeching. 🙂

  12. Helga (Edit) Report

    My fifteen year old is addicted to shows like “Rock of Love” and other skanky, immoral crap. I have told her repeatedly to turn the channel but every time I walk in the room she is back at it. I have threatened to cancel cable and she begs and pleads that she won’t have anything to talk about with her friends and I will turn her into a nerd. I am not strong enough to cancel the cable and live with her wrath. I am new to the Total Transformation program and hoping to get some help. I hate what she watches and I also know she has started to stuff her bra to look like the girls she sees on t.v. It is so sad.

  13. tina8525 (Edit) Report

    It is impossible to avoid sexual references on TV, especially in shows like “Friends.” When something like that comes up I point out how turned around and wrong it is. For instance, Chandler and Monica having sex at the beginning of their intimate relationship but not being interested in marriage. I talk to my kids about how backwards and wrong that is. I don’t think the writers in Hollywood have the slightest clue as to what most American’s values really are.

  14. Amanda (Edit) Report

    I have a three year old daughter. I have not encountered these problems yet as I am only still on my first. I believe these are ALL really great ways to get kids values in check. I am totally going teach Alexis(my daughter) all of these things. I recently did write to SHOW CASE or one of those chanels.Was 9:00 p.m. and was a ‘filthe’ in the making! Could not believe my eyes! I never did hear a reponse. Maybe if all us parents stuck together the T.V. economy would disapate. Just a Joke…. I am anxiously waiting for LOST.

  15. Annita (Edit) Report

    Our kids are not teens, but they use tv to veg not to learn. THey use tv like I used rock music- I wasn’t listening to the lyrics I just like the sound!

    It is emowering to be able to teach using the tv. With the touch of a button we stop shows right in the middle of the controversy. We use that TiVo gadget and push pause, and then we talk about it or turn it. Yes, we do have to sit and watch with kids and yes, sometimes we have to say, “inappropriate” and turn the channel.

    After homework, sports practice, chores and family dinner there is really only about an hour of tv time available. Mine actually ask for “relaxing tv” when they want to turn it on because that is all they want to get from it. We warn them that their brains will turn into mush in front of the tv set but we also talk about whether situations would work in real life, explain what words mean, talk about what people sound like (tone, sarcasm, insults, joking, disrespect, tricky) and make them tell us what message the actors are trying to send to their audience. We even talk about the commercials and see if they can figure out what product is being sold.

    But, my kids’ favorite TV rule is “when we are with the cousins you can watch whatever they watch”. We realize we cannot shelter them entirely from the world so we allow this when we travel or go to visit family or friends. I’m sometimes surprised when I hear them shout, “bad word!” or say, “that would never work”. Hmmm, I guess they are more tuned in than I thought!

  16. Elisabeth (Edit) Report

    We haven’t had cable TV for a few years now. I won’t lie, I do sometimes yearn for a little HBO, but as my son gets older, I’m mostly glad that we don’t have to monitor that aspect of his life, at least. (It also saves us a ton of money every month — another plus!) The only thing he watches is PBS, old cartoons that we used to watch (Great suggestion, Coach Scott!) and videos that we rent. It’s funny, though. I have been assuming that all kids movies were basically safe, but a friend of mine recently warned us from going to see a movie that came out this Halloween. You’d think that a rated G kids film would at least be OK!)

  17. Coach Scott (Edit) Report

    It is true that good family programming is difficult to find in today’s world. I am a father of three daughters, age 13, 11, and 7 and we have found the solution to family TV viewing. We go to the library and rent DVD’s of shows that I watched as a young person that contain family values that I want to pass on to my children. We have watched Little House on the Prairie, Full House, the Cosby Show, the Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island, the Partridge Family, Charles in Charge, and others. The funniest thing is that I find myself enjoying and laughing at the shows along with my kids. Consider watching some classic TV from a different era. It still appeals to kids.


    Coach Scott, father of three

  18. Jennifer (Edit) Report

    I purposely eliminated all TV reception when my first child was born. I control what my kids think about sex, morality, family, respect, relationships. I talk with my kids first about this stuff before they hear it from school or friends, or even other parents. By removing its influence I don’t worry about them getting wrong ideas. Believe me, I never miss it and neither do they. We watch movies (that I screen first) for entertainment for family nights. It’s the same as video games – I know Christian parents who complain that video games need to be screened. The truth is, parents need to say No and teach their kids to enjoy thinking for themselves and having fun without the crutch of TV or electronics.

  19. Rob (Edit) Report

    Carly is correct. You can’t even escape it during commercials. My wife and I frequently shake our heads when a risque commercial comes on ABC’s Family Channel. It happens often enough. Trying to watch football on FOX causes me to have to explain too many things as well.

    I don’t consider myself a prude, but it would be nice to have somewhere to go on the TV where I don’t have to be concerned about my young children getting overly exposed.

  20. Carly (Edit) Report

    If you watch TV at all, anything other than HGTV, Discovery or the History Channel, you cannot escape those topics. TV is not fit for children anymore. I have thought about getting rid of cable all together. Short of that, I’m not sure what the solution is. I’m not always at home to monitor my 15 year old son’s TV viewing.



Join our NEW Total Transformation® Learning Center!

Practical, affordable parenting help starting at $14.95/month BECOME A MEMBER TODAY!

Empowering Parents is the leading online resource for child behavior help


Parent Coaching Sessions

7.5 Million

Global Visitors

10+ Years

Helping Families