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The evidence that media contribute to child and adolescent behaviour is substantial and can no longer be ignored. Half a century of research shows that the media can have an impact on virtually every concern parents and paediatricians have about children and teenagers—early sexual activity, drug use, aggressive behaviour, suicide, obesity, eating disorders, even attention-deficit disorder and poor school performance.1 Yet the entertainment industry, parents and society as a whole would prefer to think that the media represent harmless entertainment. Here is what every parent and every clinician needs to know about media effects:
Nearly 3000 studies and reviews have found a significant relationship between media violence and real-life aggression.1 Young people learn their attitudes about violence at a very young age, and once learnt, those attitudes are difficult to unlearn.2 3 Conservative estimates from meta-analyses and other studies show that media violence may be causing 10% of real-life violence—not the leading cause by any means, but a significant factor that is worth diminishing if possible.1 4 In addition, new research in the USA shows that just a minute or two of office-based counselling by clinicians about media violence and guns is effective and could impact nearly a million American children per year.5
As with violence, young people learn their attitudes about sex at a young age.1 6 In the USA—which has had a disturbing tilt towards abstinence-only sex education in the past decade—the media have arguably become the leading sex educator of young people.6 There are now five longitudinal studies linking exposure to sexy media to earlier onset of sexual intercourse and one to teen pregnancy.7 8 9 10 11 12 Eight studies now document that giving teenagers access to condoms does not lead to earlier or more frequent sexual activity, …
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