Children who view TV programmes aimed at adults are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life, researchers have found.
The study found that the younger children were exposed to TV shows with adult content, the sooner they became sexually active during adolescence.
For the youngest children tracked by the study, six to eight year-olds, every hour spent watching adult-targeted television over two sample days increased their chances of having sexual intercourse during early adolescence by 33 per cent.
Children who watched less grown-up television were less likely to have early sexual intercourse.
Lead researcher Dr Hernan Delgado said: “Television and movies are among the leading sources of information about sex and relationships for adolescents.”
“Our research shows that their sexual attitudes and expectations are influenced much earlier in life.”
Co-author Dr David Bickham said: “Children have neither the life experience nor the brain development to fully differentiate between a reality they are moving toward and a fiction meant solely to entertain.”
“Children learn from media, and when they watch media with sexual references and innuendos, our research suggests they are more likely to engage in sexual activity earlier in life.”
When presenting their findings, the authors recommended that parents exercise care in what and how much television they allow their young children to watch.
They also said that more research needs to be done to understand how media influences children’s growing awareness of human relationships and sexual behaviour.
Campaigners have become increasingly concerned about the consequences of societal pressure on young people to grow up too much too quickly.
The chief executive of the Government’s consumer watchdog has twice recently warned of the sexualisation of young girls by popular cultural trends such as teenage magazines and ‘sexy’ clothing.
And last year another study found that teenagers who watch television programmes with sexual content are up to twice as likely to become pregnant or get someone else pregnant.