Media Messaging

Media Messaging and its Impact on Your Teenager

Parents are you aware of the messaging your teen is getting and do you know how to “fight” those messages? 

In this world we are in, where information is literally, at our fingertips, our teens are receiving significantly more “messaging” from the media than we as parents were accustomed to when we were teens. Stating the obvious, in addition to the “typical” messaging through music, television, and movies, we now have to deal with video games, Facebook, twitter, and anything and everything else that can be found on the internet.  These “forums” include subtle (and not so subtle) messages about violence, relationship abuse, drugs, alcohol, sex, and portrayal of women.

Unfortunately, we are not able to control this messaging, but we can do a better job of discussing the messages with our teen, and, to some extent, limit their exposure (especially at younger ages). We as parents can also do a better job of educating ourselves and being aware of the messages that our teens are receiving. It is important to remember one key thing and that is media messaging influences behavior. If it didn’t, Nike, Budweiser, Pepsi, etc. would not invest billions of dollars in advertisements. For example, a study found that, among a group of 2,250 middle-school students in Los Angeles, those who viewed more television programs containing alcohol commercials while in the seventh grade were more likely in the eighth grade to drink beer, wine/liquor, or to drink three or more drinks on at least one occasion during the month prior to the follow-up survey.

*** Interesting Statistics ***

I thought I would “set the stage” by providing you with some interesting (and in some cases troubling) statistics about modern media as well as our teens “exposure” to these messages. It may seem like a long list, but please believe me when I tell you that a book alone can be written with different statistics and examples.

*  The average teenager spends about 6 ¾ hours a day (38+ hours/week) using media—television, movies, magazines, newspapers, playing video games and using the computer

*  The average child sees approximately 20,000 commercials a year

*  By age 12 the average child has witnessed at least 8,000 murders and more than 100,000 other acts of violence on television.

*  For movies rated PG-13, 82% of movies show characters smoking

*  Young people see 45% more beer ads and 27% more ads for hard liquor in teen magazines than adults do in their magazines

*  Advertising in teen magazines and on television typically glamorizes skinny models who do not resemble the average woman; today’s models generally weight 23% less than the average woman

*  The average height and weight for a model is 5’10” and 110 lbs, and the height and weight for the average woman is 5’4″ and 145 lbs

*  The average young TV viewer will see about 14,000 references to sex each year,

*  A 1997 advertising study showed that white women in roughly 62% of ads were “scantily clad”, in bikinis, underwear, etc

  • 53% of black women
  • 25% of men

*** Examples***

I wanted to provide you with some concrete examples to highlight some of the messaging that your teen is being exposed to.

*  An ad for jeans in Elle shows three men physically attacking a woman

*  An Italian edition of Vogue shows an ad with a man pointing a gun at the face of a naked woman wrapped in plastic

*  From an American skateboard manufacturer; an ad aimed at young men shows a man pointing a gun at the head of a female, along with the slogan “bitch” (Jean Kilbourne, Can’t Buy My Love, 2001).

*  Research shows that 9- to 11-year-olds can identify the Budweiser frogs better than Tony the Tiger, the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or Smokey the Bear

And the most recent example I came across was a t-shirt that was recently pulled from the shelves of J.C. Penny. The t-shirt read “I’m too pretty to do my homework so my brother has to do it for me.” In addition, the description of the t-shirt read as follows “Who has time for homework when there’s a new Justin Bieber album out? She’ll love this tee that’s just as cute and sassy as she is”

Now parents – is this REALLY the message that you want your children to receive? I’m sure most of you are answering “no” to this question. Luckily, in this case, the complaints were loud and the store eventually made the decision to remove the t-shirt from their stores. However, in many cases that won’t be the case and you will need to educate your teen on your own.

*** What Can You Do?***

With all the bleak information provided above you may be asking yourself what, if anything can you do about it? Again, although you can’t influence the media, you can, to some extent influence what your teen is exposed to. Additionally, even if you can control everything they see, you can have candid discussions with them about what they are seeing/hearing and “enlighten” them or teach them to not believe everything they see and read. Some additional tops are listed below:

  • EDUCATE yourself and your teen; Identify the hidden messages inherent in advertising
  • Be AWARE and make your teen aware of the fact that ads target; (gender, age, race, ethnicity, etc.)
  • Teach your teen to BECOME a wise and responsible consumer
  • Teach your teen to become CRITICAL viewers of media in all of its forms, including advertising
  • Remember that ads can be DECEPTIVE; teach your teen how determine whether they have a positive or a negative message and just what that message convey

Remember – Let’s ‘parent with intent’



The Gender Ads Project.

Created by Scott A. Lukas, Ph.D.

Created in 2002, South Lake Tahoe, California.


Accessed on: March 1st, 2010