50 Shades of Green: Fighting the Media’s Manipulation of our Youth

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Hand with money

I open my classroom presentation with the following question, “Do you think we have a healthy sexual culture in our society?” An overwhelming majority of the class will reply, “No!” When I ask them what they think contributes to the unhealthy culture, media always garners the most votes. Yet, this is the same media that they freely consume without even a thought of the cost of such an unhealthy diet.

After we finish what is often a lengthy discussion about the negative impact of the media, I know I’ve gotten them to think about the media they consume in a different light. I love watching the "light-bulb moments" when they realize the media is manipulating them in order to make money.

Let me tell you, teenagers do not like being manipulated. But they love being challenged. If the media is the culprit behind our unhealthy sexual culture (and all the damage that inflicts), I ask them to consider their contribution to the demise of our culture. Then I challenge them to fight back against the manipulation with their dollars.

When parents don’t talk, the media will fill in the blanks!

My next question to the class is, “How many of you have had a 'sex talk' with your parents?” Not surprisingly, less than 50% of the students typically raise their hands. That’s a problem!

The media is not who you want educating your child about how he/she should see sex or behave in a relationship. The student’s letter below demonstrates why:

I wanted to let you know that you have completely changed my view on sex as a teenager. It can be very hard to know what’s right and wrong, and morals are easily persuaded by what we see on TV. Casual sex is a common thing shown everywhere in the media.

I used to think that after seeing it so many times, that this could be okay, as long as it was done with protection and with someone you cared about at least. But you reinforced that abstinence not only saves people from the emotional trauma, but can also mean the difference between disease, pregnancy, and death.

Now [I know] sex isn’t something that’s supposed to be casual, but something very special. Thank you for teaching me this. ~High School Student

Make the media work for you!

You may have already seen commercials on television for the movie, Fifty Shades of Grey, which will open in theaters on Valentine’s Day. The movie is based on the bestselling book by the same title. I have not read the book; but from the blogs and reviews I have read about it, the messages your child will receive about relationships are very dangerous.

Dr. Miriam Grossman, a child and adolescent psychiatrist who spent 12 years on staff for UCLA’s Student Counseling Services has written a series of blog posts to educate parents on how to use this movie as a teachable moment. As she states in her first post in the series,

The good news is you can turn this to your advantage. Don’t dread all the hype, because it’s a chance to connect with and help your child in a big way. Every billboard, preview, and sound clip is a precious opportunity, a chance to warn your child about being manipulated. It’s a springboard for discussion about disturbed relationships – how to recognize and avoid them.

I encourage you to get out in front of this train by reading each of her posts to help you decide whether you should allow your child(ren) to see the movie. The posts will also prepare you to have a discussion with your sons and daughters about the dangerous messages from the movie about romance and relationships.

Do you have discussions with your kids about the media they consume? If so, what is their response?

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