Any die-hard O.C. fan knows that the short lived FOX teen drama became a pop culture phenomenon over night because of Seth Cohen’s nerdy hotness, Atwood’s tendency to express himself with his fists while wearing wife-beaters, Marissa’s crazy hardcore partying, and Sandy Cohen’s eyebrows. But perhaps you diehard O.C.-ers (who miss Summer shouting “Coops!” and “Cohen!”) didn’t know that this show also happens to be educational.
Business Week reports that a recent study shows that teens are more likely to support and consider using birth control after watching an episode of the O.C. (And there was no service message at the end of “a very important episode” a la Saved By The Bell, which happens to be a gem). The study also showed that women were NOT moved to consider birth control after watching a news segment about teen pregnancy.
Of course, there’s always been the joke that teens learn everything they need to know about life from teen dramas, rather than health classes and parents, but maybe the idea is not so far-fetched.
“A message that is hidden inside of a story may overcome some of the resistance people have to being told how to behave,” Emily Moyer-Guse, an assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University and study co-author, said in a recent news release. She adds that one reason some people avoid safe sex behavior is because they feel invulnerable, as if nothing bad could ever happen to them, “but if you vicariously experience a bad result happening to you by watching a narrative program, that may change behavior in a way that is difficult to achieve through a direct message.”
If living vicariously through Theresa during her unplanned pregnancy with Ryan Atwood’s child is enough to get teen girls planning to take preventative measures towards pregnancy, then what else can teen dramas do? What other powers do they hold?
Is the effect the same when watching poor pregnant Quinn of GLEE get kicked off the Cherrios Cheerleading team because of her unplanned teen pregnancy? Can watching Ashley take ecstasy on Degrassi and subsequently get dumped by her boyfriend and best friends be enough to make teens think twice before partaking in a little “X” themselves? Could Jenny Humphrey going off with the then-dangerous Chuck Bass, so she can be cool, and nearly being rapped on Gossip Girl be enough to stop girls from wandering into dark corners with creepers?
Perhaps, especially with studies in the U.K. suggesting that teens drink more because teen dramas make it look cool. There are even people at the charity, Alcohol Concern, who ask writers of shows like Skins to make more realistic consequences for teen’s behavior.
Maybe it will work. I never wanted to end up addicted to caffeine pills after watching Jessie Spano struggle with addiction on Saved By the Bell. And watching Marissa Cooper stumble down the streets of Tijuana after overdosing on pain killers certainly made pain killer parties look unappealing. But while it’s super exciting that teens can learn how to stay safe and healthy by watching O.C. reruns on Hulu, maybe the bigger issue is that teens are basing real life behaviors on a TV show.
What does it take for teens to learn the difference between the crazy worlds of teen dramas like the O.C. and Gossip Girl and the real world? Or is behavior on the O.C. and Skins just a reflection of real teen behavior? What do you think? Let me know – I’ll be watching the O.C. season 1 on DVD with renewed pride because it happens to be educational.