Television - Special Issues for Teens

Television viewing generally drops during adolescence as young people start to spend more time socializing, doing schoolwork, and using other media, such as music, video games, computers and the Internet.

Because watching television is a relaxing activity, requiring low levels of concentration, teens tend to watch TV when they're alone or bored. But even though viewing drops during these years, it's still important for parents to know what their kids are watching.

For teens, television is a major source of information about sex. A 2009 study found that for teens in Toronto, entertainment media were one of the most common sources of information on sexual health. [1] This should concern parents because although many TV shows contain sexual content, information about safe sex or the possible consequences of sex is "virtually absent." [2]

The early teen years are considered a crucial time for the development of healthy self esteem. Insecurities over attractiveness and weight are increasing while at the same time teens are bombarded with TV images of impossible thinness and beauty. It's important that young people understand that most of the images they see on TV are unrealistic and unattainable. See the Body Image section for more information. As well, TV often does a poor job of representing various kinds of diversity: many groups are either under-represented or are portrayed in only a narrow range of roles. Helping youth to understand the constructed nature of TV shows can encourage them to take a more critical eye to what they see. See our Diversity and Media Toolbox for more information.

Parents and teachers can help teens become more engaged, critical TV viewers in a variety of ways:

  • watch teens' favourite shows -- with them, if possible
  • use television as a springboard for talking about topics such as sex, AIDS, smoking, drug and alcohol use, divorce and peer pressure
  • discuss ways in which women, men, young people, visible minorities and other groups are represented on TV
  • steer kids towards diverse, good quality programming such as science shows, documentaries, news, realistic teen dramas


[1] Flicker, Sarah et al. Sexpress: The Toronto Teen Survey Report. Planned Parenthood Toronto. Toronto, ON.
[2] Jordan, Amy et al. "Media Have a Role in Sex Ed." The Philadelphia Inquirer, April 7 2010.