Influences of drugs, sex in media on teens

Addiction and mental health experts talk about how popular media can impact teenagers

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WTVQ) – Psychologists say the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in mental health issues like depression and anxiety, and also, more consumption of social media and binging on shows and movies. One group that’s seen a big jump in all this – teenagers.

These days, it’s common to see TV shows and movies featuring high school house parties with drugs, alcohol and sex. One in particular that’s become very popular is the HBO series ‘Euphoria’, which follows high school students as they go through traumatic, sometimes triggering, events.

“If you’re in high school and you’re watching a show with a lot of drug use and a lot of sex, that’s being done by other high schoolers, the presumption is ‘this is what high schoolers do’ and so, therefore, I either should be doing it or I’m odd because I’m not doing it,” says Christia Brown, a professor of developmental psychology at the University of Kentucky.

Since its’ release in 2019, the “visually stimulating” scenes have become a concern to addiction and mental health experts. These experts say while the show highlights the mental health issues, like depression and trauma, that lead the characters to drug use and sexual activities, it doesn’t cover the healthy coping mechanisms teens can turn to.

“It is 10 times more of a problem with particularly social anxiety, depression and you do see kids who are self-medicating because they’re not receiving medical services or therapy,” says Mickey Little, student advocate specialist at George Rogers Clark High School.

Mental health experts say during the pandemic, social media really became the window to the outside world for kids and teens, and when drug use and sexual content is normalized, that’s a concern.

“I feel like the show almost makes it like a rite of passage and it should not be a rite of passage,” says Rob Capley, peer support specialist with the Isaiah House Women’s Center. “You should hold your morals and values sacred to you and be honest with those morals and values and not let this peer pressure make you feel like you have to or have to have this ‘coming of age’ to use drugs to be part of a group.”

Addiction and mental health experts all agree shows like ‘Euphoria’ should spark honest and open conversations between parents and their kids about what’s happening in their life.

“Teaching kids how to deal with feelings and emotions so they don’t mask those things with drugs and alcohol,” says Shanda Dunn, recovery outreach coordinator with the Isaiah House. “Teaching them how to deal with peer pressure situations and things like that.”

Mental health experts urge kids and teens if they’re feeling depressed or anxious, to reach out to a trusted adult in their life and ask for help instead of turning to drugs and sex. The Isaiah House says though these things might make you feel good and forget about the problem at the time, addiction is a slippery slope that can wind someone up in the hospital, jail or a grave.

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