We all love watching TV. It’s a way for many of us to escape reality, and dive into the characters we love on the big screen. Sometimes when we watch a really good show it makes us feel empowered because we see the proper representation we’ve always yearned for in the media. However, sometimes the things we watch can have negative impacts on our societal behaviors as well. 

The best example of the serious negative impact television can have on youth is the controversial show 13 Reasons Why. We all remember the show that everyone was talking about. Regardless of your thoughts on the show, I believe we all can agree that “intense” is a good way to describe the scenes we saw unfold. 

The show that was centered around a teen girl’s suicide, came out in March of 2017.?? The show demonstrated a very graphic display of her committing suicide. For some, this was just a show talking about the issues of high school but for others, this show had serious effects. 

A study done by the Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry found that suicide rates increased by 28.9% in children from the ages of 10 to 17, in just a month after 13 Reasons Why was released. Many critics came after the show arguing that the show glorified teen suicide. 

The show not only displayed the seriousness of suicide in young teens but it also opened the discussion of bullying in high schools. In the show 13 Reasons Why, a teen character was shown graphically being bullied where schoolmates shoved a broom up his rear end, formally assaulting him. 

Sadly, in April of this year, at Wilkes Central High School in Wilkesboro, North Carolina, five students sexually assaulted another student by shoving a broom handle in the rear end of the 15-year-old victim. The students who assaulted the 15-year-old taped the vicious attack and posted the video to social media. 

But the question is why? Why are teens reenacting what’s happened on the big screen? 

The problem is kids aren’t just being influenced from 13 Reasons Why, they are getting it from almost any teen show out nowadays.

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescents Psychiatry, children ages 8 through 12 spend about four to six hours watching a screen a day. Teens on average spend about 9 hours watching screens. The more they are watching TV, the more likely they are to pick up and learn certain behaviors.   

Many like to argue that the problem at hand is, what teens are choosing to watch, but this necessarily isn’t the case. Most shows, specifically teen shows that are out, display content including drugs, alcohol, sexual content, and violence. 

A 2016 study by the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics found that more than 300 episodes of 17 shows rated from Y7 to MA, each contained at least one behavior related to violence, substance use, and sex. In those shows, violence occurred in 70% of the episodes, alcohol use occurred in 58% of the shows, smoking was prevalent in 31% of the shows, and sex occurred in 53% of the shows. 

Based off this data, its safe to say it might be hard for teens to avoid this type of content altogether. 

What’s even more serious is that young children specifically teens are at the age where they are trying to navigate through life, and figure out who they are. Watching television with this immense amount of what seems to be adult like content, can influence how they think they should or shouldn’t be acting at their age. 

Evidence shows time and time again how the youth carefully watch and imitate what they are seeing on TV. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, extensive viewing of television violence can cause greater aggressiveness in children. Sometimes watching just a single violent program can increase aggressiveness. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry also stated that children who view shows where violence is very realistic, that is repeated or goes unpunished, (like on 13 Reasons Why) are more likely to imitate exactly what they see. 

The truth is not only can TV shows like 13 Reason Why influence violence, but it can also have a serious effect on the number of drugs and alcohol teens consume. Almost all popular shows such as Euphoria, Degrassi, Grand Army, including 13 Reason Why, and so much more depict young teens using drugs and alcohol underage. When young children see people their age performing a certain act, they themselves believe they should be doing the exact same thing. 

Oftentimes when teen shows repeatedly show underage substance use, it can have a serious effect on when teens start to consume as well. In a survey done by the Recovery Village, it was found that 51.4% of the 400 participants in the study admitted beginning to use substances between the ages of 15 and 17. 

Now, there can be numerous factors as to why young kids use substances such as peer pressure, environment, family situations, or mental health, but there is no doubt young children get the idea to use drugs and alcohol from how much they see it on television. According to a study by the Science Daily, the more advertising adolescents see for particular brands of alcohol, the more they are to consume those specific brands. 

Can you really blame teens though? Everytime they turn on the TV they see “teens” their age partying, using drugs and alcohol as a way to let loose and have fun. It’s only a matter of time it would influence adolescents. 

The same goes for sexual behaviors amongst teenagers. Just like almost all teen shows display acts of underage substance use, these same shows also display high levels of sexual behaviors on the big screen. This can also cause young teens to start engaging in sexual activities in which they are seeing on TV. According to a study by RAND, funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a correlation was found between the amount of sexual content adolescents consume and how much they partake in it. 

The results of the study showed that heavy exposure to sexual content on television, related to teens’ initiation of intercourse or their progression to more advanced sexual activities apart from intercourse in the following year. 

It was found that kids who viewed the greatest amounts of sexual content were two times more likely than those who viewed the smallest amount to initiate sexual intercourse during the following year or to progress to more advanced levels of other sexual activity. 

The sad part is, is that TV sex scenes are all fake. When teens watch sexual scenes on TV, they now have this false ideal of what it should be, resulting in them to possibly act irresponsibly. 

Some teens are unaware of the risks such as teen pregnancy and the dangers of STDS. 

But can all these bad influences from TV shows, be outweighed by the good?

Yes! Even though there are numerous negative influences television can have on a young teen, there are still several positives effects it can have on youth. 

A positive to watching TV for teens is being exposed to an accurate representation of themselves. For many people of color like myself, seeing a black female lead on a show or movie was very seldom for me as a kid. However now, there has been an increase in shows that have proper representation. For example, when Black Panther came out it was revolutionary for the black community. We finally got to see ourselves as a superhero on the big screen. Seeing people who look like you or identify like you can build up your self-esteem and make you feel as if you matter in society. It also shows that there are people out there just like you. 

Just like for kids of color, the same goes for teens of the LGBTQ community, or teens with disabilities. Seeing someone that is on the big screen that is just like you, can help a teen feel heard, seen, and understood. 

Another huge benefit of watching TV is the amount of education you can get from the big screen. As much as teens might get exposed to violent behaviors, substance abuse, and sexual acts, they also are exposed to the risks and consequences of these behaviors. 

For example, many shows such as Parks and Recreation, Grey’s Anatomy, Modern Family, The Mindy Project, and so much more have episodes that discuss the important topics such as practicing safe sex, the possibility of contracting STDs, pregnancy prevention, and abortions. The same goes for substance abuse.

Many shows such as Euphoria, Recovery Road, and Skins demonstrate the reality and consequences of alcohol and drug abuse, and addiction. 

TV also has the beauty of bringing important social issues to light. Many shows have opened the discussion about the climate crisis, LGBTQ rights, women’s rights, or the current racial issues of today’s world. An example of this is when in 2019 When They See Us aired on Netflix, which opened up the discussion about the exonerated five black and brown kids who were wrongfully accused and convicted of assault. This documentary opened the eyes of many to see how black and brown kids are stereotyped, labeled, and mistreated by the justice system.

At the end of the day, the honest truth is that TV can be both helpful and damaging at the same time for a young teen who is still learning as they go. The goal is to make sure adolescents who are figuring out as they go, find the separation between television that is reality and what’s just for the big screen. 

Jaala Brown

Jaala Brown is Gen Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today.