Movies, music and video games always seem to get a bad rap for flooding teenagers' minds with sex. The all-you-can-watch buffet of television is no exception.
A heavy, TV-watching habit makes teens who don't have close relationships with their mothers more likely to have looser attitudes about sex, according to a study of about a thousand 16-year-olds in Belgium. Teens were surveyed about the amount of TV they watched, how close they were with their moms and their attitudes on sex.
A strong mother-daughter relationship neutralized the TV effect on girls, the report from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven says. For boys, the risk actually increased if they were closer to their moms.
So what's happening in the mother-son relationship that's not happening in the mother-daughter one?
One theory that co-authors Laura Vandenbosch and Steven Eggermont offered is that when a mother encourages her TV-watching son to talk about sex, he might misinterpret her intentions as a confirmation of the importance of sex in his life or even as an approval of recreational sex.
Another theory factors in the idea that the more time a boy spends with TV, the more time he is exposed to gender stereotypes. In the future, he might be more likely to reference those stereotypes and use them in making life choices.
"Our work provides initial insights into the interaction effect between television viewing, maternal attachment and gender," the authors said in a joint statement, "and suggests that the influence of attachment to the mother on associations between television viewing and sexual attitudes appears to be risk-increasing for boys and risk-decreasing for girls."
The findings were published online by the journal Sex Roles.
I wondered if there was a way to quantify this effect so I've called and e-mailed the Belgian researchers. I will update the post if they get back to me.
Obviously not all sexual socialization occurs in front of the tube. Teen influences include their parents, community, culture and peers. The authors suggest further research should be done looking at the relationships teens have with their fathers, among other variables.