Television encourages teen sex and violence

Violent computer games and too much television is increasing dangers of mental health in children and can drive children to have early sex, a study warns.

Peer pressure, celebrity culture and advertising were highlighted as areas contributing to girls having sex as soon as they hit the age of consent.

The findings are published in the second stage of the Good Childhood Inquiry for the Children’s Society.

It suggests that a new youth culture which consists of more money, more leisure options and constant new technology is cultivating a generation of “materialistic” children focused on “individualism”.

It warns the more TV a child is exposed to the more materialistic they become and the “worse they relate to their parents and the worse their mental health.”

Selfish behaviour in adults was also blamed for the spread of early sex and violent behaviour. The report warns that adults are increasingly pursuing personal success over the needs of children.

It said: “The belief among adults that the prime duty of the individual is to make the most of their own life, rather than contribute to the good of others, is causing our young people a range of problems.”

The survey said that the high levels of teenage pregnancy in Britain and girls becoming sexually active from a young age is “the product of many forces including more privacy when both parents work, commercial pressures towards premature sexualisation and a fundamental change of attitude towards pre-marital sex.”

The survey also reveals the exploitation of peer pressure on young children by advertisers and the media.

In an industry worth £3 billion annually the report claims that some advertisers “explicitly exploit the mechanism of peer pressure, while painting parents as buffoons” and that in its most extreme form, advertising persuades children that “you are what you own”.

In addition the “constant exposure” to celebrities through TV soaps, dramas and chat shows is having a detrimental effect.

It says: “Children today know in intimate detail the lives of celebrities who are richer than they will ever be, and mostly better-looking. This exposure inevitably raises aspirations and reduces self-esteem.”

In November a study was released showing that teenage girls who watched television programmes with sexual content were twice as likely to become pregnant.

The researchers tracked more than 2,000 American teenagers for three years, monitoring their exposure to programmes like Friends and Sex and the City.

One of the researchers, Dr Anita Chandra, said: “Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy. We found a strong association.”Mike Judge of The Christian Institute said: “These shows normalise casual sex but write its emotional and physical consequences out of the script.

“Real life just isn’t like that, and it’s deceptive and irresponsible to offer teenagers happy endings when they are more likely to end up depressed, pregnant, or suffering with a sexually transmitted infection.”