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Study probes TV impact on teenagers

Execs weigh in with views on teen environment

HOLLYWOOD — Today’s teenagers are smarter than they were 30 years ago.

That was just one determination revealed last week at a gathering of researchers and primetime execs at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Focus was a new study on the effects of primetime television on teenagers, Mediascope’s “Prime-Time Teens: Perspectives on the New Youth-Media Environment.” Centerpiece of the study was a series of interviews with industry execs concerning their views on the teen TV environment, conducted by David Wild of Rolling Stone magazine in 2000 and 2001. Two themes that emerged in the interviews were the notion of the teen searching for identity and the teen being smarter — in a hipper, more street-sassy sense of the word — than adolescents used to be.

There was plenty of talk about the proliferation of sexuality and adult topics on today’s shows as well. Don Roberts, director of the Institute for Communication Research at Stanford U., who analyzed Wild’s interviews for the study, said teens are not “becoming adults faster, but they are losing their childhoods faster.”

Industry reps interviewed 30 years ago argued that kids could easily discern between reality and fantasy. The authors of this study, however, claim that the line is becoming blurred, especially with younger kids who are looking to television characters two or three years older than themselves for guidance on what Roberts called “how to be.”

Peter Christensen of Lewis and Clark College said, “Television, like anything you’re exposed to, influences us. We learn from it, and it ultimately can influence us every day. That’s the premise that we bring to this study.”

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