Youth Support Library

Special seminar  Youth & the Media  Victor Strasburger

Chaired by Diana Birch and Laura Clarke

DB - Youth and the media is something that’s a bit close to my heart. Many of you will know that my daughter was at stage school and is an actress and so I’ve been very interested in youth and the media from very different angles, and I’m very pleased to see some people from Italia Conti stage school here, so we have some young people who are actually involved in the media as well, and I hope that you’ll ask questions and interact and I’m also really pleased because we have a speaker, Victor Strasburger, who is from New Mexico where he works with adolescents. He has published so many things on youth and the media, that I won’t go through them all because there’s just pages and pages of really excellent work and he’s looked at the media from all sorts of different levels. You will be getting a handout as well of some of his work, but some of the titles are ‘Sex Drugs Rock’n’Roll’ and so on, but the one I like as well, is the one about ‘Why Should you tell your kids to say no in the nineties when you said yes in the sixties’. And I think that that kind of title gives you a little bit of an idea of how Victor approaches his subject, so I won’t take up anymore of his time and I’ll just pass over to him.

Victor Strasburger

Well thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here, I did part of my paediatric training at St Mary’s in Paddington Green Children’s Hospital, so this is a second home for me. I hope in the next forty or fifty minutes to give you some fresh insights about the effects of media on kids. This is the television set very much like the one that I grew up with in the fifties and sixties, big cabinet, small screen, now we know that 91% of the world’s children have access to television. We know that a sizeable number of them even have televisions in their own bedroom. In the United States of course, with the recent Lewinski / Clinton business, children now as young as seven or eight are asking ‘what is oral sex?’ – I did an interview for the national public radio a couple of weeks ago and tried to explain to parents what to do when your kids ask about this. My own seven year old asked about it. We know that people begin watching television at a very young age. Babies as young as six months will attend to the television set and we know that they are exposed to a great number of potential dangers.

When we talk about television we are probably talking about a medium which exerts its greatest influence during childhood, but whose impact isn’t really seen until adolescence. So, between the ages of 1 and 2 and 8, probably the impact of violence in the media is most crucial between the ages of 8 and 13, sex and drugs in the media, but then play it out progressively during adolescence. If I asked adolescents, and I noticed in the study from Cuba when they asked about sources of sexual information they did not include media, that’s not uncommon, but if I asked the teenagers sitting here do the media influence you they would probably say ‘oh no no no, we’re beyond that, we’re smarter than the media’ but if I asked them do the media influence their 5 and 7 year old brothers and sisters – ‘oh yes, it’s awful, isn’t it awful?’ And so when I talk to teenagers I use that approach. And in fact I would suggest listening to the APAUSE studies that in fact the easiest way to train teenagers to say no would be to take a group of teenagers and tell them you’re training them to train younger teenagers to say no, and that would make them very comfortable.

Now these are American data but they are in fact worldwide data as well. There’s a study which I’ll show you in a few minutes that is international in scope which in fact found the exact same thing, that children and adolescents are spending roughly three hours a day in front of the television set. It is, worldwide, the most important leisure time activity of children anywhere. They spend more time watching TV than they do in school, than they do playing with friends, than they do in sports, than they do in anything else but sleeping. Now American television as I’m sure you’ve heard and seen, and I know in London they’re big fans of American television, I come over here to see Ally McBeal, here’s the breakdown of American television, every year the average child sees a high degree of sex, drugs and violence, every year.

Now you may think that American television is simply America’s problem. It is not. Media are our second leading export, we are the largest producer of media in the world, it is likely that what you see on American televisions last year or saw last year you will see on British TV this year, on European TV next year, unfortunately. This is a study which found that more than half of 12 to 17 year olds have in fact a TV set in their own room, a third of grade school children, even a quarter of pre-school children. This is my summary slide for American TV, I’m not a big fan of American television, it is not all bad, but it is largely, certainly potentially harmful to children and adolescents, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. Having said all that, TV is not to blame for the world’s ills, whether it’s violence, or teen smoking, or teen sexual activity. There are many many other factors, and if I were to list them, television and other media would come perhaps fourth or fifth. I will show you data that tell me as a researcher that media contribute perhaps as much as thirty percent to violence in the world, to smoking among teenagers, to sexual activity among teenagers. Thirty percent, by no means the majority, but a sizeable chunk that if we could make that thirty percent go away or make it healthier, we’d have healthier teenagers.

We know that children imitate what they see on television. And yet that is not the direct effect that we are most concerned about. There are in fact direct imitations - many of you know there were several killings, just in the last few weeks, in France, teenagers and young adults who were said to be imitating ‘Natural Born Killers’. This occurred in Oslo, Norway, a woman gets up on the front of a ship and imitates the scene in Titanic and falls off. That kind of direct imitation is in fact rare, and it is not what we worry about. It makes headlines, when it happens, but it is not the effect that we’re most concerned about. Rather what we are most concerned about is the subtle, cumulative insidious effect of media on young people, what one group of researchers calls the stalactite effect, the constant drip drip drip of electronic limewater on people’s brains, so that if I went across to the front row and asked teenagers for example to identify certain key words in commercials or key programmes, they would know it, and yet they would not admit that there’s any relationship between intimately knowing those characters and those key pitch phrases from commercials and their own behaviour. That’s how well ingrained the media are in our lives.

If you ask a group of two or three year olds ‘how do the characters, how does television work?’, they’ll tell you the characters come in through the plug. They are tiny little characters and they crawl in through the electrical cord. Television to young people is real. To children it is absolutely real, to teenagers it is a display of what’s hot, what’s new, what’s fashionable, what’s hip, what’s chic, what’s cool, it is absolutely real. And so the biggest fallacy in Hollywood and other places that produce media is that children and teenagers understand that this is harmless, this is entertainment, everybody knows that this is not real, it is not reality, because the studies show over and over that young people think that television is real. This is the way real people behave in real situations. One of the speakers this morning alluded to Bandura and the social modelling theory, and it is absolutely crucial in understanding the impact of television. The social modelling theory says that children learn to behave by imitating attractive adult role models. There are no more attractive adult role models than what you see in the media, on television, on the movie screen. Some of the role models are people we might not necessarily like for our children or teenagers, but they are there just the same.

It’s funny for me to be addressing a group of health professionals because in fact you are the most resistant along with teenagers to accepting that media has an impact. My own field, which is paediatrics and adolescent medicine, has been very slow to accept the data that have been published for years and years. Part of it is because this data is not published in the medical literature, it’s published in the communications literature, in the psychology literature, part of it is that you all don’t watch much television, you certainly don’t watch what teenagers and children watch. Part of it is that you grew up when television was gentler and kinder than what it is now. It may be a whole host of things, part of it may be that you subscribe to the Hollywood thinking which is that it’s harmless, it’s just fantasy. But it’s clear to me that physicians, nurses, other medical personnel are the most resistant to accepting that media have an impact on youth. Teachers accept it unquestionably; parents accept it a little more readily than health professionals. TV can be pro-social, it can teach people to respect their elders, it can teach them numbers and younger children numbers and letters, it can teach them racial tolerance, there are a number of positive aspects of media, but unfortunately most of media relates to negative aspects.

The media have become a worldwide marketplace, and many people now feel that television in particular exists, particularly in London it would be ITV and Channel 4, Channel 5, in the United States all the commercial channels basically exist to sell a certain demographic group to a certain group of advertisers. Public television varies around the world, the BBC is one example of public television which is quite good, although they just lost the cricket contract to Channel 4, shame on them. But TV commercial television now exists to sell products. The programming is almost irrelevant. TV has been accused of being one cause of anorexia nervosa and other eating disorders among adolescents; there are a handful of studies which examine this. Certainly the image of women has changed in the last forty years, has gotten progressively thinner and thinner, Marilyn Monroe is a size 14, you would never see someone like that as a role model or a movie star today. A size 14 is quite large if you look at the total body fat of models today it is 25% lower than what it was even 10 or 20 years ago.

Now lets talk about violence because it’s really been the most well-researched aspect of the impact of media. There are over a thousand studies which now link violence on the screen, particularly television violence, but also movie violence, video game violence to aggressive behaviour in young people. Some of that work was done here, some in Australia, some around the world, most of it in the United States. People make the argument, well of course media are violent, the media have always been violent, this is Kenneth Branagh in Henry V, Shakespeare is incredibly violent, I mean Titus Andronicus, they eat each other in pies, what could be more violent. The fact is that children are not watching Shakespeare three hours a day around the world. They are watching violent TV and movies. In the research, you have to answer the question, does viewing violent programming, whether it’s television or movies, lead to aggressive behaviour because of certain violent attitudes, or is it simply that people who are more aggressive choose to watch shows that are more violent in nature. This is what I refer to in my articles as the chicken and egg dilemma.

This was the first of several so-called naturalistic studies to look at this question. This was a community in western Canada, which had no television, compared with a community that had just one channel, Canadian Broadcasting, and another nearby community that had multiple channels. A group of researchers from the University of British Columbia went and examined kids two years before and after television was introduced into this community and lo and behold, two years after television was introduced, the amount of physically aggressive behaviours on the playground increased dramatically. This was also repeated in Western Australia, so these are really international studies. Here’s a study from upstate New York in the United States, answering that chicken and egg question. A significant relationship and our value of 0.31 in the Social Sciences researches about a 0.85 in the medical literature – significant relationship between watching violence in the third grade (so these are 8 year olds), and aggressive behaviour eleven years later. No relationship between choosing to watch more violence and being aggressive. What does this tell us? It tells us that children learn their attitudes about violence at a very young age. In this case, age 8. And once they learn their attitudes they are very difficult to unlearn. This is a meta-analysis, some of you may be familiar with this it’s a statistical technique that uses studies as individual data points. So this is a meta-analysis of about 125 studies of the impact of violence on aggressive behaviour, and there have been several meta-analyses published in the literature, most recently in the early 1990s and again, you see here an effect, an estimated effect size of about 0.25-0.3 and the impact is on both girls and boys. Quite significant, 30%. If you could make society 30% less violent wouldn’t you choose to do that. Here is one way we could.

Now a psychiatrist named Brandon Senegal did a very interesting study, he said, if you learn you attitudes about violence at a very young age, but you don’t play them out until you’re adolescence or young adulthood, then we should see a lag between the introduction of television into a society and an increase in the homicide rate, for example. Very crude means of measuring violence in society but probably an effective one. So he looked at television ownership in the United States and lo and behold, fifteen years after television was introduced, in about 1950, fifteen years later the homicide rate sharply rose to three times what it was pre-television. In fact it increased dramatically exactly where television had been introduced first, which was the cities rather than the rural areas. He could almost do it block by block within the cities. It’s fascinating research. Just to confirm that he looked at South African whites, obviously could not look at blacks, but looked at the homicide rates among South African whites where there was no television until 1973, and fifteen years later, the exact same effect. The homicide rate has doubled, nearly tripled in South African since the introduction of television.

Now if I went to Hollywood, as I will in two weeks, to talk to writers and producers, and I showed them this, they would simply say, ‘we mirror society. Yes society has gotten more violent and we’ve gotten more violent because we choose to show society as it really is’. Well these data allow that interpretation, these are not cause and effect data, but they are certainly provocative data and make you really think about the impact of media in society, in any society. Most recently in the United States just completed the National Television and Violence Study, which found alarming amounts of violence on American programming, here’s what’s most significant. Most of the violence goes unpunished. Most of the victims are not shown in pain, so I’m sure all of you who treat adolescents have had the experience of dealing with a teenager who’s been shot, who says ‘I didn’t know it would hurt’, because watching it on television, or in the movie theatre, it doesn’t hurt’.

If you want to reinforce aggressive behaviour and attitudes, the easiest way to do that is to show violence as being justifiable. That’s exactly what American media do, and to a great extent, American media are your media, wherever you live. Here’s another chilling, I think, finding: in our country children’s shows are actually more violent than regular programming. I don’t think you’d find that to be true in most of your countries.

Now, I want to concentrate on a very interesting international study because it will tell you that this is not just America’s problem, this is a study from Unesco that was just published earlier this year. It was a national, international study and in fact it did not include the United States, it did include 23 different countries, 5000 students around the world, roughly 300,000 bits of data, all twelve year olds, roughly 2500 males, 2500 females. As I said, 93% have access to a television, they watch three hours a day, television is the dominant cultural force around the world. Here’s a chilling – my brother-in-law’s a movie star, but I’m not sure that 88% of the world’s children would recognise him, many of them would, I don’t know, his name is Christopher Reeve, but 88% of the world’s children do recognise Arnold Schwarznegger. Many children, in fact boys from high aggression areas, these may be war-torn areas of the world, or it may just be poverty areas of the world, more kids from high aggression areas want to be like Schwarznegger than boys or girls from low aggression areas, countries at peace. Action heroes and pop stars, the favourite role models for 12 year olds around the world.

These are significantly stressed children. As I said, all 12 year olds, nearly half, report being anxious a great deal of the time, 9% have actually had to flee their homeland, 47%, nearly half, would like to live in another country. So this is not Britain, this is not the United States, this is really a representative sample of the world. People see killings in their neighbourhood, many of them have used a weapon against someone else. What the findings were from this report, were that in fact, twelve year olds’ views of the media, of real life, were influenced by their media experiences, they tend to see media as being real, as teaching them that violence is natural and necessary, and they see in the media that aggressive behaviour is in fact worthy behaviour. It’s necessary, it’s justifiable, again, if you want to teach people to be violent, teach them the notion of justifiable violence.

Many of you in this audience will recognise this picture, no-one in this picture is alive today. These are the children and the teacher in Dunblane, Scotland, who were all killed by a mad gunman toting rifles and handguns to school. Certainly, the media, the world’s media have become quite violent in terms of guns, and I want to show you the first clip from the American show ‘The Simpsons’, where Homer gets a gun:

Homer Simpson: Now I believe you have some sort of firearm for me?

Gun seller: Well let’s see here. According to your background check, you’ve been in a mental institution –

Homer: Yuh

Gun seller: - frequent problems with alcohol –

Homer: Oh ho ho, yeah

Gun seller: - beat up President Bush!

Homer: Former President. Potentially dangerous?

Gun seller: Relax, that just limits you to three handguns or less.

Homer: Woohoo!


Homer: Close your eyes Marge, I’ve got a surprise for you!

Marge: Mmmm

Homer: Okay, open your eyes…

Marge: (screams)

Homer: Hey, it’s a handgun, isn’t it great? This is the trigger, and this is the thing you point at whatever you want to die –

Marge: Homer, I don’t want guns in my house…

Bart: Hey dad, can I borrow the gun tomorrow? I wanna scare that old security guard at the bank.

Homer: Only if you clean your room.

Marge: No! No-one’s using this gun. The TV said you’re 58% more likely to shoot a family member than an intruder.

Homer: The TV said that? Well I have to have a gun. It’s in the constitution.

Lisa: Dad, the Second Amendment is just a remnant from revolutionary days. It has no meaning today.

Homer: You couldn’t be more wrong Lisa. If I didn’t have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time he wants and start shoving you around. You want that? Huh? Do you?

Lisa: No.

Homer: All right then.

Marge: I’m sorry Homer, no weapons!

Homer: A gun is not a weapon Marge! It’s a tool, like a butcher knife or a harpoon or… uh… an alligator. You  just need more education on the subject. I tell you what, you come with me to an NRA meeting, and if you still don’t think guns are great, we’ll argue some more.

(end of clip)

It’s interesting that again the United States leads the world in this particular issue and that’s the availability of handguns to children and adolescents. I would caution you to learn from our example, and that is that as the density of handguns goes up, the number of teenage homicides and suicides goes up as well. There’s no question about that linkage, the data are quite clear. We’re the only country really in the world that reverses this particular item when we export our media for example to Britain, they take out violence and they add nudity, or sexuality, we have the most violent media in the world and unfortunately we export a lot of that violence to the rest of the world. If we could at least eliminate the way guns are used in media, those movies, those television shows would be healthier by far, but since they are uniquely American media, we don’t choose to do that.

The next subject is sex in the media, and it goes well with what was presented this morning. Think of the media as - we all acknowledge the peer group as being extremely important and you saw data this morning attesting to that yet again – think of the media as a super-peer. You watch television, you watch movies, and the message you get is, you are the only virgin left on the face of the planet. Everyone is having sex but you, sex is fun, sex is sexy, there are no bad consequences to having sex. Soap operas, whether they’re British soap operas, or American soap operas, are notorious for using sex to get high ratings. We use sex to advertise, and this is worldwide, in fact there are more examples from the continent than there would be from American media where this is concerned. We use sex to advertise everything from beer and wine to shampoo to vacations, and then when our young people turn around and start having sex at age 12, or 13 or 14, we go ‘tut tut, why don’t you abstain from sex, just say no’, when we are beaming thousands of advertisements at them a day, and we are showing them programming where everybody is just saying yes, where there are no negative consequences.

This is a current Calvin Klein underwear ad, ‘what begins with a T’ – I’m not sure what begins with a T, I’ve never asked Calvin Klein, is it t-shirt, is it tits, is it titillation, lots of things begin with a t. But why use this in a way that’s irresponsible and then when people try to do the right thing, and be responsible and teach kids sex education in a reasonable way, they get voted down. Here’s the ultimate Calvin Klein ad. Now the Europeans are far better at this than the Americans, clearly, advertising works, so one way to deal with sexual content in the media, is to use it in such a way to promote reasonable, healthy sexuality. This is a print ad. You’ll find many more of these in Britain and Europe than you will in the United States.

Does contraception increase sexual activity? There are now four studies in the medical literature which say no. Finally, people have done this work because it has been a sticking point not just in the United States but in Britain as well, that if you give kids access to birth control – this was argued in the House of Lords several years ago – should young fifteen year old girls have access to birth control pills in Britain? – the answer is that if you make contraception available to teenagers they will use it. It will not tip them over into earlier sexual activity, but when they begin having sex they will start using contraception. There are remember 1000 studies in the world medical literature about violence. There are four on sexuality.  What’s wrong with this picture? 1000 studies on violence, four on sexuality. This is not something that people are comfortable studying, or allowing to be studied, these four studies are all more than ten years old. No-one has ever done the kind of studies I showed you with the violence looking longitudinally at a group of eight year olds, following them for ten or eleven years. No-one has ever done that kind of study looking at how young children learn sexual attitudes and then put them into practice of sexual behaviour.

I’m sure many of you are familiar with the Guttmacher  report which looked at rates of sexual activity in Europe and Canada and the United States, and lo and behold, the United States has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in the Western world – not in the world completely – some of the old Communist countries have higher rates. But in fact these kids are all having sex at roughly the same ages and in roughly the same numbers. The only two explanations here are either American teenagers are incredibly fertile, or, they don’t use birth control. Sorry to tell you it’s the later because we don’t teach birth control in media, in schools, at home. Clearly, if you teach kids to use birth control, when they become sexually active, they will use it. You did not see, in that list of why kids start sexual activity, you did not see anywhere – access to birth control as one reason why they started sexual activity. They need access to it, but it does not tip them over into earlier sexual activity.

I want to show you – I don’t think this has made it to Britain yet, has it? Oh, it has, OK. Good. This is the current favourite among American teenagers and I am sure will be a favourite among British teenagers too, this is the most widely watched show in America among female teenagers and I thought I would show you two clips from it, Dawson is the main character and his mother is a newscaster on television and in the first clip he has the day before come home and found his parents having sex on the coffee room table in the living room, he is about to go out and his father has a little chat with him and in the second conversation one of Dawson’s friends PC is discussing the curriculum with his high school English teacher. So why don’t we roll that.

Dawson’s father: Your mum’s on. Watching her work is the best foreplay.

Dawson: I’m outta here.

Father: Have fun, play safe.

Dawson: The condom chat is premature.

Father: Oh, it’s never too early.

Dawson: What is up with this sex? It’s all anybody thinks about anymore. Sex! Sex! Sex! What is the big deal?

Father; Sex is a very big part of who we are as human beings.

Dawson: Does that mean we have to go hump the coffee table? If sex is so important then how come Spielberg has never had a sex scene in one of his movies? He keeps it in his proper place in film as should we in life.

(Bell rings)

Dawson: I’ll be home early.

Next clip

PC: What are you reading?

Teacher: Oh just the approved tenth grade reading curriculum. I’m trying to choose the next book for our class. Any suggestions?

PC: How about something with a little action in it this time?

Teacher: Action?

PC: Yeah, sex. I mean what is our school board so afraid of - we’re practically adults now, we can handle this stuff. A few blue novels are not going to kill us.

Teacher: PC, every piece of literature you’re going to read this year will have sex in it. Everything you read last year probably as well.

PC: Yeah, but it’s not real sex. I mean sex as a cautionary tale, sex as a warning. I’m not kidding about this. Every time somebody in one of those books has sex, something bad has to happen to them. Romeo and Juliet. They have sex, next thing you know they’re killing themselves. The Scarlet Letter, Esther  has sex and the next thing you know she’s an outcast for life. The Greek one -

Teacher: Oedipus?

PC: Yes that one - that guy sleeps with some chick (who, granted, is his mother), he’s so freaked out by it, he pokes out his own eyes. Hey, that’s not real life. Correct me if I’m wrong, but it has been known to happen, that every once in a while two people sleep together, they enjoy it, and afterwards everything works out fine.

Strasburger: Now what’s interesting about that is in the second clip, the two of them are having an affair. They’re having sex together. She’s 37, she is his tenth grade high school English teacher and the series used that as a way of gaining ratings. It is based on Mary le Tourneau who is a Seattle teacher who had sex with her in fact 12 year old student and has now just delivered her second baby from him. She’s in prison.

But the first clip is actually more representative of the show once it got going and got good ratings. Because now you have a very interesting phenomenon, you have a father telling a son to play safe, the son saying ‘the condom chat is premature’. In fact Dawson is not sexually active, he’s a virgin, although the rumour is that this second year of Dawson’s Creek he and his best friend who is a girl will lose their virginity. But it’s an interesting placement of abstinence. Abstinence belongs in programming. It is not designed to overwhelm programming, anymore than it should overwhelm sex education programmes. But it can be incorporated in a very useful way.

Let’s move on quickly to drugs and then I’ll try to leave a few minutes for questions. A raging debate going on: does Hollywood sell drugs to kids? And Hollywood doesn’t just mean America’s Hollywood, Hollywood means the world’s Hollywood. A study just came out from a researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, showing the presence of drugs in most prime time shows, movies, half of all music videos. Drugs, tobacco, alcohol, illicit drugs, are wide-spread. This is a so-called content analysis. It doesn’t give you cause and effect, but at least tells you, there are a lot of drugs being portrayed in the media. Many of you will recognise the Budweiser frogs, many of you will not know that there is actually a study looking at the impact of the Budweiser frogs and finding that they were almost a powerful a cultural icon as Bugs Bunny. Bugs Bunny. And this is 9-11 year old children could recognise the Budweiser frogs. Readily. This is a beer being manufactured on the Eastern seaboard of the United States.

About two weeks ago I was supposed to testify in a lawsuit because the government is trying to ban advertising of this beer - this is bad frog beer and you can see he’s flipping the bird here, and the state of New Jersey wants to ban this kind of advertising so that young children and teenagers will not see it. Notice the things designed to attract teenagers. ‘He just don’t care’, ‘bad frog beer’, ‘there goes the neighbourhood’, all those kinds of things to make it anti-establishment, more appealing to young people. It remains to be seen whether this kind of advertising will be banned or not. Here’s another 30%. This is a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the first longitudinal study of the impact of cigarette advertising. Having a favourite ad, having a promotional item was highly predictive of smoking among teenagers, three year study - one third of all teenage smoking could be chalked up to tobacco advertising. Thirty per cent. In the United States there is a direct relationship between the amount of money you spend advertising your cigarette and the preference among adolescents. We spent $6 billion a year just in our country, advertising a product which kills. And what’s going to happen in our country in the next five years is that as we ratchet up the demands on tobacco companies to be truthful in their advertising, as we shut down their ability to promote their product, we’re going to export our problem to you. Because the tobacco companies will try to remain profitable, and they are already expanding well into the third world, to market their products. So in fact, cigarette advertising, alcohol advertising are far more important subjects for the rest of the world than they are in the United States, because we’re about to largely get rid of it or at least confine it to the adult population. You ain’t seen nothing yet.

What we are doing with alcohol advertising, with tobacco advertising, is here’s the Frobush paper mill and the Frobush water purification plant and the caption ‘we create it, we clean it up’. Business couldn’t be better. There are probably 10 or 15 studies showing that exposure to tobacco advertising, exposure to alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that kids will smoke or drink. Why else would people spend so much money on it? Why else tobacco and alcohol manufacturers spend so much money advertising? As a counter-deterrent, we know in fact that there are good programmes that can be implemented in schools that will cut the rates of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, even hard drug use, dramatically by as much as to levels that are 25 or 30%, what they ordinarily would be. These are programmes that are not ‘just say no’ programmes, however, you need to teach peer education, you need to teach social skills, you need to teach media education. Maybe during the questions we’ll talk about the Internet, I want to give you a few conclusions though.

The Internet I think is reasonable to discuss in terms of chat groups, also in terms of alcohol and tobacco advertising, also, obviously in terms of sexuality.

Now, what do we do about all this? Well, clearly, clearly, it is up to parents to control television better than they’ve been doing. And it is up to Hollywood to produce a better product. If you ask parents they say it’s all Hollywood’s fault, if you ask Hollywood, they say ‘there’s an off switch on the TV, it’s all parents’ fault’. It’s both. Many people are, and I know I have friends who have thrown the TV set out or locked it up in a closet, I would not advocate doing that because there is perhaps 10% of mainstream television that is frankly good for children. It will take them places they will never see. It can show them things they will never see in person.

Co-viewing is extremely important, and again I’m talking now about younger children, but the benefits are gained during adolescence. If you sit and watch television with a younger child, although you can certainly do it with a teenager and it’s worth doing for sexual content or for drug content with a teenager, it’s an excellent icebreaker, but if you sit as a parent and watch television with your child, and you discuss the content, your views then take precedence over whatever’s being presented on the television screen. And critical viewing skills are an absolute necessity. Some countries do a good job of this, most countries do not. Australia has led the way, in critical viewing curricula, it is virtually mandated in all states in Australia in schools, you can teach kids that the media are not real. But you have to do it in an intensive, school-based programme in addition to doing it at home if you’re a parent. Here are my kids, they are very media-literate, this is the last time they were seen hugging each other, about a year and a half ago... So television is not just part of the problem, it may be part of the solution as well. If you include media education with drug education and sex education, that gives you as leg-up on everyone else who’s doing this, this is extremely important stuff to counteract. And we need to get over this simplistic ‘just say no’ philosophy, whether it’s with teen sex or with teen drug use. It is more complicated than just say no. We have an industry which is constantly beaming messages to kids to just say yes. Clearly making birth control become available is important and many countries have recognised that; many still have yet to recognise it.

So, no-one in his or her right mind would invite a stranger into the house to teach their children or teenagers for three to four hours a day, that’s precisely what the media do. The question is, are you going to control it or not, the question for Hollywood is, what’s the best thing to watch on the old television tonight? Still, probably, the goldfish bowl. Thank you.

We have a couple of minutes for questions or comments.

Question - the role of the media in sex education

Strasburger: I wish I knew the answer to that question because I’m involved in some research right now, trying to get funding for a longitudinal study of teenagers’ attitudes and beliefs and their sexual practices, and I can’t get funding for it. I think if more parents recognised the role that the media play in sex education of their children, they might be willing to allow their children to participate in a study, but so far I haven’t solved that problem.

Q. Does the media have positive effects?

Strasburger: Well I’m glad you asked that question - do the media have positive aspects? Well again the balance is greatly in favour of the negative, or I wouldn’t have stood up here all this time talking about it. It’s interesting because if you go to Hollywood, which I do a couple of times a year, and talk to people, they will hold up things like Schindler’s List or Private Ryan, which I guess just opened in Britain, as being the best of Hollywood. This ennobles us, this teaches us the horrors of war in the case of Private Ryan, it teaches us the horrors of the Holocaust, which in fact I believe both those movies do, I think they’re great movies. But, if you say what about this movie which is just violent, just mindless: ‘oh no no no no, that has no impact, that’s just entertainment’. So, even Hollywood will say ‘we do the good things and we do it awfully well, but the bad things have no impact’. I would say yes, there is a positive relationship with the media, and the media can teach very positive values whether it’s about violence or sex or alcohol or smoking or, as I said, racial tolerance, respect for elders, you can teach a great deal of things, there’s almost an Orwellian context to it if you take it far enough. We haven’t even come close to that.