Millions of kids saw Toy Story 3 earlier this summer, and many were frightened by the scene in which the toys are heading toward almost certain death on the incinerator's conveyor belt. But it was another scene in that movie that made my hair stand on end: It's when Ken first meets Barbie, and the song Dream Weaver ("I believe you can get me through the night") starts to play. Ken says to Barbie, "Love your legwarmers," and Barbie purrs, "Nice ass-cot."
There it was: another one of those sexy zingers designed to make parents laugh and sail over kids' head. But I've never bought that argument. Turns out my instincts were right.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sex -- and its cheeky cousin, innuendo -- doesn't go over kids' head. In fact, the AAP's new report, "Sexuality, Contraception, and the Media," says that exposure to sexual content in TV and other media in early adolescence can as much as double kids' risk of early sexual intercourse.
Perhaps more importantly, what kids aren't seeing -- consequences for risky sexual behavior and messages about healthy sexual relationships -- also negatively impacts their behavior and attitudes about sex.
According to the report, having a TV in a child's bedroom is associated with early teen sexual activity. On the other hand, adolescents whose parents limit their TV viewing are less likely to engage in early sex.
But let's be clear: The occasional sexual reference or sexual dysfunction ad isn't going to hurt your kid. And while no parent wants their kids to learn about sex from animated movies, explaining to them that lovey-dovey stuff is often exaggerated in movies and TV to get attention helps counteract those sexy messages.
As kids get older, the conversations get a little less comfortable (as when my then-10-year-old asked me what a three-way was after he saw a joke on TV about a sexual triangle involving a bicycle built for three). But offering a counterpoint to the exaggerated notions of sex that kids see is one of the keys to helping them develop a healthy attitude about sex.
What You Can Do
There are a few other things parents can do, according the AAP:
Take the TV out of the bedroom. Bedroom TVs have been identified as a risk factor for early sexual behavior -- and don't forget kids can watch TV on their computers, too.
Recognize the impact of media in kids' lives. Don't buy the excuse that racy jokes go over kids' heads. What kids hear and see affects their lives socially, emotionally, and physically.
Help them make age-appropriate choices. Kids get excited about movies and TV shows that are being marketed to them. But check our reviews first, and find age-appropriate alternatives to movies and TV shows you don't think they're ready for.