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'Explicit References to Sex in Front of Children': Study Reveals Disturbing Trend in Prime Time TV


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The Parents Television Council (PTC) has released a new research report exposing what the council calls "a disturbing trend" occurring in prime-time broadcast family comedies.

According to the PTC's research, adult characters (parents and teachers) portrayed on TV series are increasingly making explicit references to sex in front of child characters.

The PTC's new study titled "Lewd By Example" found that in more than 80 percent of all of the prime-time family comedies airing on broadcast networks, there were instances of adults using explicit sexual dialogue in front of children.

The worst example in the study, according to the PTC, was NBC's "A.P. Bio", in which a school teacher discusses his sex life or uses other sexual dialogue inappropriate for children in front of his classroom in almost every episode.

The study also found:

  • All the Fox and NBC "family comedies" reviewed in this study contained instances of adults using sexual dialogue in front of children.
  • On the Disney-owned ABC network, 75% of "family comedies" contained such dialogue. On CBS, more than half (60%) of "family comedies" did.
  • All of CBS' "family comedies" were rated TV-PG; 83% included a "D" descriptor designating sexual dialogue.
  • On ABC, 80% of the network's "family comedies" containing sex talk in front of kids were rated TV-PG, and over half of them (60%) lacked the "D" descriptor designating sexual dialogue.
  • Fox and NBC were more responsible about rating content appropriately: on NBC, 68% of "family comedies" were rated TV-14, and 85% had the "D" descriptor, and 75% of Fox "family comedies" were rated TV-14 and contained a "D" descriptor.
  • NBC's A.P. Bio contained the most instances of adult sexual dialogue in front of children. Next worst, in order, were: The Mick (Fox), American Housewife (ABC), Life in Pieces (CBS), and Family Guy (Fox).

"When it comes to airing sexually charged dialogue in front of children, the broadcast television networks eagerly appear to be saying 'me too' when they could be saying '#metoo,'PTC President Tim Winter said in an article on the PTC's TV Watchdog website. "According to new PTC research, over 80 percent of the 'family comedies' on prime-time broadcast TV include adult characters using sexually explicit dialogue in front of child characters — this coming at a time when our nation is grappling with a crisis of inappropriate sexual provocation. Furthermore, the networks are marketing this alarming content trend as being appropriate for children to watch." 

"Our study reveals a fundamental problem with the way TV shows are rated. Each TV network assigns its own ratings, and oversight of the system is then handed to a group of the very same network executives who routinely rate programs inaccurately," Winter explained.  "It's a dirty secret that the networks would lose advertising revenue by rating content accurately because most mainstream corporations won't sponsor programming rated TV-MA. The TV Content Ratings System needs to be reviewed by the regulatory authorities and entirely overhauled.

"Decades of scientific research has concluded that children and teens are profoundly influenced by what they see and hear on television. Yet today, primetime television places young characters directly in the midst of sexually-charged dialogue, and that content is marketed as appropriate for children to watch," he continued. The system that is supposed to 'protect' children by giving parents control over explicit, age-inappropriate content is an abject failure."

Primetime family sitcoms that were analyzed for the study include:

ABC – Last Man Standing, Dr. Ken, The Middle, American Housewife, Fresh Off the Boat, The Real O'Neals, The Goldbergs, Speechless, Modern Family, Black-ish, Splitting Up Together, Roseanne

CBS – Man With a Plan, Kevin Can Wait, Life in Pieces, Mom, Young Sheldon Fox – The Simpsons, Bob's Burgers, Family Guy, Son of Zorn, The Mick, L.A. to Vegas

NBC – This Is Us, Champions, A.P. Bio

CW – Jane the Virgin

To read the study and learn about its methodology, click here

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