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The Secret Life of the American Teenager – Sex Obsessed ABC “Family Channel”

26 February 2009 15 Comments
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Secret Life of the American Teenager

Secret Life of the American Teenager

Influence of Sexual TV Programming on Teenagers

“This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.”

This article discusses two new programs on ABC called “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” and “Greek”. ABC has traditionally known as a “family channel” have new programs that centers around sex themes for high schoolers and college students.

A high-school guidance counselor agrees to change a student’s schedule so that he is more likely to meet a girl who will have sex with him. A cheerleader breaks up with her boyfriend after discovering that he accepted oral sex from the school tramp. A good-girl French horn player discovers she is pregnant after a one-night stand at band camp and debates with a friend whether or not to terminate the pregnancy.

Sound like the kind of racy fare one might see on HBO or its slightly tamer cousin, the CW? Think again. The previous scenes come from The Secret Life of the American Teenager, a hit show on ABC Family that is changing the network’s image and may change parents’ minds on whether to allow their children to watch the channel.

According to the ratings, most parents aren’t concerned. The show, which focuses on the romantic entanglements of a pregnant 15-year-old girl and her friends, has given ABC Family its biggest audience yet, with nearly 4 million viewers per episode. This is millions more than the CW’s much-hyped teen drama Gossip Girl draws in, despite the fact that ABC Family broadcasts in far fewer homes. Teen viewers also crowned Secret Life with “Choice Summer TV Show” at the 2008 Teen Choice awards. Yet many argue that the show’s material is hardly appropriate entertainment for the 12- to 17-year-old viewers it attracts.

With episodes showing teens in bed together and frank discussion of masturbation and internet porn, the content is so adult, it prompted one Huffington Post critic to quip, “If that’s family programming, what would non-family programming look like? Frontal nudity?” But network executives claim that Secret Life isn’t pushing the envelope so much as staying right in step with real teen experiences.

ABC still claiming to be a Family Channel
ABC has historically been known as a family channel, a network safe for families to watch together during prime time hours. However the two new programs have raised huge concerns due to it’s heavy sexual content. Disney who owns ABC has released very peculiar ratings such as 18-34 and 12-34 in order to perhaps avoid any controversy of rating the show as a “teenager” show. Surprised? Their other show “Greek” is centered around college freshmen pledging into fraternities and sororities engaging in casual sex with a general lighthearted comedic attitude.

“It’s kind of a misnomer to call ABC Family a family channel,” said Michele MacNeal, head of a local branch of the Parents Television Council. “When you call something ‘family,’ it gives the impression that it’s safe for all members of the family, even young children.”

Sexual Content on TV impacting Teenager Behavior
With sexual content on TV doubling in the past few years, there has been many studies conducted in order to measure the increase in sexual programming to teenager behavior. Not surprisingly, the studies conducted by independent research groups show that sexual content does impact behavior of its viewers.

According to research conducted by the independent, nonprofit firm RAND, watching television programs with sexual content not only makes teens more likely to engage in sex, but also increases the likelihood of pregnancy. A 2008 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics asked 2,000 12- to 17-year-olds to keep track of the television shows they watched that contained sexual content. Those who watched a high amount of such programming were twice as likely to get pregnant or to get someone else pregnant.

Noting that sexual content on TV has doubled in recent years, behavioral scientist Anita Chandra who led the study commented, “Watching this kind of sexual content on television is a powerful factor in increasing the likelihood of a teen pregnancy.” This held true even when factors like parental involvement and economic status were accounted for. “We found a strong association. . . . Even when we removed all the other factors,” Chandra stated. “We still saw a compelling link between a high exposure to sexual content on television and teen pregnancies.”

A previous study by the RAND organization also found that teens who watch such programming are twice as likely to begin engaging in sexual intercourse in the following year as those who don’t. And it doesn’t matter whether the programs actually depict sexual behavior or merely talk about it—according to the research, both types impact teens’ sexual behavior.

Said Rebecca Collins, the psychologist who headed the 2004 study, “This is the strongest evidence yet that the sexual content of television programs encourages adolescents to initiate sexual intercourse and other sexual activities. The impact of television viewing is so large that even a moderate shift in the sexual content of adolescent TV watching could have a substantial effect on their sexual behavior.

Full Article


  • Do you watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager?
  • Do you think it’s influence is negative or positive of teenagers?
  • What life lessons (or norms) does the show teach? Have examples?
  • Do you think by watching numerous shows similar to this would have an impact in the way a person behaves or considers norm?
  • Sara March 23, 2009 at

    I enjoy this show secret life of an american teenager. It is not exactly a show for everyone in the family. Definetly not little kids. But it in no way glorifies sex. All of the teens having sex rethink their actions. The younger sister of the girl who becomes pregnant quicks dressing inapropriately and the school “tramp” stops sleeping around. And there is no part where the guidance counselor switched anyones class to get them closer to a girl they can have sex with. The guidance counselor actually told the students to quit talking to him about everything that was going on that didn’t have to do with school. As I said before I do not think this is a show for those of all ages, but I do not think it will be a bad influence on those who watch it. It seems to support abstenance more than anything.

  • Jude July 27, 2009 at

    this movie really teaches a lot.its aint about poisoning the teens but really makes it a reality for those wiling to learn
    the attitude and conviction the viewers give it to me sounds the biggest approach
    its worth watching

    is season 2 out,am confused

  • Katherine August 5, 2009 at

    Oh come on, this show is so moralistic and preachy, there is nothing encouraging teenagers to have sex, just the opposite. The entire show operates on an assumption that sex is meant exclusively for marriage, that teenage sex is immoral, will prevent you from reaching your full potential, and propounds a version of christianity that requires abstinance before marriage. Virginity is depicted as morally superior and teenage sexuality is equated with mental illness and depravity. Moreover, the show blatantly rejects the most reasonable solution to teenage pregnancy – abortion. This show is completely in line with the conservative social agenda.

  • Jahbrielle January 4, 2010 at

    As a 16 year old female I believe that this show is absoutely ridiculous and should not be on TV. It provides no moral lesson in any of it’s episodes and it seems as if everytime they’re going to, the writers completely steer off track with more talks about sex. The reason why this show is so high in ratings is because the kids aren’t watching it wih their parents. No child who has sensible parents would ever watcht his in front of their children. And the parents who allow is are simply ignorant, and not concerned with their child’s well being. It makes me soo upset that earlier this year our President wanted to inspire the nations children and there was a public outcry, while there is TV programs that are feeding there children sublimnal messages about sex, and there is not a parent out there trying to get it off the air. Another thing that bothers me the most is the title of this program. The Secret Life of the American Teenager?? Which Americans are you refering to? Black, Hispanic, Asian, Whites? Who?? ‘Cause yes teen sex is present in the Black community but not at all to the degree that these characters seem to be. Every other word in this show is sex. . . and yes unfortunately these acts are occuring, and it’s good to bring it to light, but what are you doing to give a lesson behind it? Nothing!! These characters are placed into adult roles without realizing that they are not mentally prepared just because of their age and mind development to handle situations like the ones that are being confronted on this show. And the fact that 12 year old’s are watching this is alarming. With ABC and the writers knowing this they need to lighten up on the content. It’s inapporpriate for 16 year olds let alone 12 year olds to see. The main “slut” in the program is a Latina girl…now how jacked up is that. Then they have a little token Black girl, an Oreo black guy..and two whitewashed Asians in the show. The only audience you’re appealing to is white teenagers. These situations are far from the “American” teenagers lives and is an awful show for teens to look at, and a disgusting example for teens to follow. Human nature has shown that the unconscious mind will follow anything that’s out there. And THIS is what’s out there. Lord help us all.

  • Chris January 5, 2010 at

    what Jahbrielle said. absolutely beautifully said, young lady. My youngest, who is 18, had this on while my husband was making dinner last night and he couldn’t believe it was on ABC Family at 7 pm. It’s appalling really.

  • cleancutmedia January 5, 2010 at

    its really interesting to see the varied responses by different people here on this blog. we go from “nothing wrong really” to “teaches lot of lessons” to “it teaches abstinence not sex!” to “all it talks about is sex”..

    thanks for your comments.

    More Questions
    - Do you watch The Secret Life of the American Teenager?
    - Do you think it’s influence is negative or positive of teenagers?
    - What life lessons (or norms) does the show teach? Have examples?
    - Do you think by watching numerous shows similar to this would have an impact in the way a person behaves or considers norm?

  • kay January 3, 2011 at

    I’m my opinion I have no problem with this tv show on ABC family! There is nothing telling kids to have sex what so ever! And there was no guidence counciler that reranged the kids class schedual so he could find a girl to have sex with! You CAN’T trust part of this sight! If you want to find out watch it your self and then you can state a opinon about if its wrong or right but if you haven’t watched it you can’t judge! Also in the end of every episod they have a teen from the show talk about how you should talk to your parents about sex and what the concequences are of having sex.

  • arnold March 24, 2011 at

    it,s a movie to give warn in teen agers

  • cml July 16, 2011 at

    Episode #1 Has the guidance councilor rearranging the kids schedule. Re-watch the episode. Bad judgement to call this a family show. Family does mean ALL ages. This show should be censored. Clean cut media? Yeah right, not on ABC!

  • cml July 16, 2011 at

    The show promotes teen sexual behavior. It shows some of the consequences of those actions. And, it has characters who try to practice abstinence. Although, its pretty hard not to notice how the show ‘makes fun’ of such a concept of ‘being Christian’ and moral that the characters choose/not choose to follow. Really, it makes them look pretty idiotic. And I can’t help by being offended by that part ABC. But like ABC cares…Just trying to reflect the typical teenager of today. Please. What a message they are putting out to the (young) public.

  • Cassy August 24, 2011 at

    I’m 32 and have watched the entire series. I think that all above comments are true. There is a lot of exposure to the negative consequences of sex, but still it is IMHO inappropriate content for, well even me, honestly. My husband makes so much fun of me for watching this trash TV. This is NOT family programming. I think the point is that the exposure to this increases the chances of teenage sex. I read a study recently about how simple exposure to an idea makes the idea more acceptable in the sub-conscious brain.

  • steve September 1, 2011 at

    this show glorifies homosexuality,adultery,sex with multipul partners all in the same group…they never get stds hiv,herpes etc one episode when a girls father dies a boy comes down and tells her mother oh we just had sex nothings wrong lol man who says that 2 someones mother or she tells her mom she blames herself cause she had great sex? Lol seriously this show says its okay go screw and screw strangers and get pregnant parents having conversations woth they’re kids about who they are screwing really? Man this show is really messed up

  • nailheads September 14, 2011 at

    i watched an episode lately (2011) and the school counselor (a black guy, go figger) try to help a young girl get over her reluctance to have sex with her also underaged boyfriend. how wrong is that? in real life that counselor would have been charged for contributing to the delinquency of a minor

  • Chris September 14, 2011 at

    and just what does the counselors ethnicity have to do with it?

  • kimberlydawn February 25, 2012 at

    Franky, it’ s just a very boring show. It includes all that sex talk to try to make up for the fact that the characters are all really bland and dull and ditto the dialogue!

    Snoooozze! Why is it that older shows that didn’t feel the need to mention sex every two seconds were actually more interesting to watch? You actually cared about the characters more. Why can’t they accomplish this any more?

    The kids on this show all seem so “plastic” and cliched. I think ABC Family is only picking kids (especially the GIRLS) because of how they LOOK…classic pouty lips, tiny nose, long flowing locks….they think that’s enough to make their shows interesting,when really it’s causing so many ordinary girls to feel bad about their looks.

    What they need to do, is hire more ORDINARY looking girls, and WORK ON CREATING MORE INTERESTING PLOTS AND DIALOGUE!!!!

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