Children’s Television: A Primer on Bullying?


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Does children’s television programming have a dark side? Image by woodleywonderworks

Need a little break?

Plop the kids in front of the television.

After all, it’s programming for kids, how bad can it be?

Pretty bad, according to research by Drs. Nicole Martins and Barbara Wilson of Indiana University and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, respectively.

Martins and Wilson conducted a study of the top fifty programs watched by children aged two to eleven, according to the Neilson Media Research.

The results indicate that children may be learning more from television than parents realize.

Measures of Social and Physical Aggression

Martin and Wilson measured the amount of social and physical aggression in the most popular children’s television programs.

Social aggression included both verbal actions such as name calling, insults, teasing and sarcasm, and non-verbal acts such as rolling the eyes, sticking out the tongue, staring, and making mean faces.  The researchers documented “an average of 14.4 incidents of social  aggression per hour, or one incident of social aggression every 4 minutes.” In fact, according to the study, “92% of these shows contained some social aggression.”

The perpetrators of social aggression were often portrayed as attractive characters.  Social aggression was often placed in a “humorous” context. The authors state “there is some evidence to suggest that humor can increase viewer aggression.”  The humorous context of the aggression also trivializes it.

Physical aggression appeared  to be slightly less common, but only by a small margin, with “one incident of physical aggression every 5 minutes.”  Boys were more likely to be shown using physical aggression, while girls were more likely to be seen as socially aggressive.

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