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Twisted Image of Teen Sexuality

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Only three shopping days left to find the perfect Christmas gift for your lovely teenage daughter. Need some ideas? A quick Google search turns up a "Top 10" list with "hot" suggestions for teen girls. Consider the Spa Sister Head to Toe Pampering Kit ($49.99 at Target) or perhaps a pair of chic leatherette (read: plastic) stilettos with a 4 1/2-inch heel - a bargain at just $15 at Forever 21.

Or, if your teen is a "gleek" (a geeked-out fan of the TV show "Glee," for you cave dwellers) buy the Glee Karaoke Revolution. At $59.99 from Game Stop, this game turns any Wii gaming system into a virtual recording studio where teens can belt out their favorite tunes performed on the show.

But heck, why give a teen girl the vicarious experience of warbling a show-stopping tune when you can just flip on the TV to watch an episode of "Glee" and instead give her the gift of a warped, hypersexual self-image just like what the female characters have on the show?

New research released last week from the Parents Television Council (PTC) reveals that on "Glee" and 24 other prime-time network TV programs, "underage girls are rapidly becoming the new female image of sexualization in the media." (Full disclosure: I'm a member of PTC's Advisory Board.)

It's not only the cultural observer, but the mom in me who is disturbed by the findings of the study, "Sexualized Teen Girls: Tinsel Town's New Target." Among the startling revelations:

- Underage female characters are shown participating in a higher percentage of sexual depictions compared to adult female characters (47 percent and 29 percent respectively).

- Only 5 percent of the underage female characters communicated any form of dislike for being sexualized (excluding scenes depicting healthy sexuality).

- Eighty-six percent of all the sexualized female characters depicted in the underage and young-adult category were presented as just being in high school. (Which means, even if the actress is an adult, she plays a high schooler on TV).

- Ninety-three percent of the sexual incidents among underage female characters were "unhealthy" based upon a definition established by the American Psychological Association of "healthy" vs. "unhealthy" sexuality.

- Ninety-eight percent of the sexual incidents involving underage female characters occurred with partners with whom they did not have any form of committed relationship.

Clearly, the lopsided statistics prove that the powerful folks in TV Land think there is only one way to depict adolescent sexuality in prime-time TV: promiscuously. Makes you wonder about the creepy grown-ups producing this stuff, doesn't it?

Unbelievably, there are critics of the PTC study who claim the watchdog group promotes censorship. But the purpose of this study is to inform parents and communities about the serious risks to our children of such perverse and disrespectful media content.

According to the study, "Past research clearly demonstrates that girls exposed to sexualizing and objectifying media are more likely to experience body dissatisfaction, depression, and lower self-esteem as well as being impacted in their perceptions of virginity and/or their first sexual experience. The current study findings clearly show that the most powerful medium in the world - television - is exacerbating rather than reversing this troubling trend."

Not to mention, PTC found that 75 percent of shows that included sexualized underage female characters did not have an S-descriptor to warn parents of sexual content. No point in looking for help to protect your children from the same skeevy people who put this stuff on our public airwaves.

There's almost nothing more pathetic or sad than seeing a teenage girl who dresses and acts as though her self-worth is determined by her sex appeal. The need or desire to do this isn't a natural part of developing sexuality, but a twisted, media-manufactured distortion of what it means to be a healthy, sexual being.

Parents of teen girls and boys alike must take the time to be informed and talk openly with their children about the barrage of hypersexual media that permeates our culture.

A thoughtful conversation on the subject would be a great gift, indeed.

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