Study shows compliant teens influenced by risky behaviors on TV

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Compliant children more influenced by TV

Though all teenagers were affected by television portrayals of drinking, the content of the programming was more likely to influence some than others.

"TV influences everyone, but TV influences some people more particularly, and in this case it was the people who were low in reactance," Russell said.

Reactance is a personality trait: someone's tendency to do exactly the opposite of what they're told.
If a parent tells a child not to touch a hot stove and all the child wants to do is touch that stove, then the child is high in reactance. Low-reactance children are more likely to do as instructed.

The study found that, while high-reactance teens were more likely to report wanting to drink, TV's portrayals of drinking had the biggest impact on low-reactance adolescents, who had the lowest perceptions of risks from heavy drinking of all adolescents surveyed.

"It's contradictory, because you assume 'better' kids are less likely to rebel against their parents," Boland said. "But if they are low-reactance, then they're more likely to be influenced by the images on TV."

And as low-reactance adolescents watched more TV, they reported they were more likely to drink.
"High-reactance teenagers seem to be a little bit protected," Russell said. "They have a little bit of a protective layer that makes them less influenced by what they see on television."

Other risky behaviors influenced by television

The research's findings aren't limited to the influence of TV's portrayals of drinking on teens, Boland said.

"It could apply to sexual content, texting and driving, and other risky behaviors," she said. The findings illustrate the role of media in adolescents' lives, say the researchers, who include co-authors Dale Russell, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and Joel Grube, of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. "We have the ability to really influence people at young stages of life," Boland said. The study reinforces that parents should limit what and how much TV their children watch, Russell added.

"We should not let kids watch so much televi- sion because this process called cultivation—the more you watch TV, the more you believe the real world is like what you see on TV—clearly applies to views about drinking," she said.

Parents should be especially careful if their children are low in reactance, Russell said.

"They're less likely to contradict what you tell them, but they're even more like sponges when it comes to what they see on TV," she said.

Hollywood should also show more realistic storylines, yet shows are becoming increasingly risqué, Russell and Boland said.

Programs like Roseanne and Sex and the City were groundbreaking in what they portrayed on TV: sex, masturbation, homosexuality, and more.

"Now these things are just so much more common," Boland said. "A TV show like Roseanne looks tame now.

The study's findings could also be used to aid public health professionals. Low-reactance teens could be more influenced by a public service announcement, for example, or by subtle references in TV programs to the dangers of drinking.

Russell noted that the analysis, published in the Journal of Children and Media, isn't so much a marketing study as a public health one, despite the researchers' backgrounds.

"It's important from a societal standpoint," she said.

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