A new study released this week ties teenage sexual behavior to TV watching habits.  Boys and girls aged 12 to 17 were asked about their TV viewing habits and two followup studies tracked how many of the girls got pregnant and how many of the boys got a girl pregnant.  The report states:

Participants were asked how often they watched any of more than 20 TV shows popular among teens at the time or which were found to have lots of sexual content. The programs included “Sex and the City,” “That ’70s Show” and “Friends.”

Pregnancies were twice as common among those who said they watched such shows regularly, compared with teens who said they hardly ever saw them. There were more pregnancies among the oldest teens interviewed, but the rate of pregnancy remained consistent across all age groups among those who watched the racy programs.

Study lead author Anita Chandra noted that TV-watching was strongly connected with teen pregnancy even when other factors were considered, including grades, family structure and parents’ education level.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that what you put into your brain does influence your behavior.  Repeated exposure to music, TV shows or movies that depict certain types of behavior as normal or acceptable gradually influences our thinking and hence our behavior.  It is naive and foolish to assume that we somehow won’t be affected by what we allow into our minds.  It is no different from assuming that having terrible eating habits year after year won’t eventually affect your health.

That’s why the Scriptures have so much to say about our thought lives.  For example, Philippians 4:8 says:

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.

The Greek word translated “dwell” in this passage means “reason about, ponder, think about.”  The NASB translators note says “Lit. ponder these things.”  “Ponder” is a good word that indicates unhurried, careful thought. The ESV translates it, “think about these things.”  The verb is a present tense imperative, which indicates a command to regularly and often ponder these things.

How many movies and TV shows promote the qualities listed in this passage?  How much time should we be spending watching them?  Share your thoughts below by leaving a comment.

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  1. What do you think about media that reflect suffering and poverty in the world? The reason I bring this up is that this type of media (e.g. “Hotel Rwanda,” documentaries on the crisis in Darfur) is not necessarily spiritually edifying, but in some ways is necessary to prod us out of our apathy to fight against injustice. In some ways, I feel like a small dose of pop culture is fine if you have a critical mind about it. If we completely remove ourselves from an understanding of culture, in some ways we lose touch with what is influencing others and can’t battle it as well. (It’s not to say I watch “Sex and the City” or other shows that push promiscuity, though.) I think your risk of being swayed by pop culture is inversely proportional to the amount of the Word you get daily, though… being rooted in the truth kind of puts all of this into perspective.

  2. I think that watching “Hotel Rwanda” is good for the soul. It depicts human evil as evil instead of glorifying it. The protagonist risks his life to try to deliver a group of people from genocide. The film is very much in line with Christian values. Fighting injustice is a strong biblical theme.

    So I don’t mean that we shouldn’t watch movies that show evil for what it really is, but rather ones that glorify it (“Kill Bill” comes to mind–a movie that I would never want to see).

    I agree with you that a small dose of pop culture can help us to relate to those around us. But if it becomes more than a small dose, it will influence our thinking.

  3. Where lies the value of entertainment? Perhaps the Puritans were right to eschew many kinds of entertainment in favour of more constructive ways to take a break from regular work: it would at least lead Christians to think harder about what justifications there are for choices rather than coming at it with an innocent-until-proven-guilty mindset.

  4. Most of us feel cheated if we are not able to spend an hour or two each day, or at least several hours a week, entertaining ourselves. We look at entertainment almost as a right. The Puritans as well as early Christians had a very different idea, and who is to say that they were wrong and we are right? Perhaps instead we are one of the most self-centered and self indulgent generations in history. That is why it is valuable to read what was written by thoughtful Christians from earlier periods in church history. It gives us perspective.

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