New PTC Study Finds Child Characters on TV Using Sexualized and Foul Language

Written by PTC | Published November 16, 2016


In a new study of prime-time broadcast television, the PTC found that the networks are increasingly creating and airing programs in which teenage and even child characters use overtly sexualized and adult language.

During the study period of February-May 2016, language used by child and teen-aged characters included: (bleeped) “s**t” and “s**tting,” (bleeped) “f**k” and “f**king,” “erections,” “boobs,” “penis,” “masturbating,” “nymphomaniac,” “ass,” and more. “It’s bad enough that children are increasingly exposed to vulgar dialogue on television at all hours of the day. It’s even worse that they’re seeing the vulgarity coming directly from the lips of other children. This troubling new trend should concern every family, given the inarguable evidence that children are influenced by what they see on TV,” said PTC President Tim Winter. “Adding fuel to the fire is the contemptuous content ratings system that allows TV networks to rate such explicit content TV-PG or TV-14, suggesting to parents that the programs are appropriate for their kids. Yet children are being exposed to age-inappropriate levels of profanity and sexual dialogue especially on family-targeted sitcoms, such as ABC’s ‘The Real O’Neals,’ which contained more sexual dialogue involving teen and child characters than any other primetime program on broadcast TV,” he added. The PTC study found that Disney-owned ABC had the largest number of instances of profanity and sexualized language said by children, with 81 instances of profanity and 42 instances of sexual dialogue in the period. In part, this is because ABC airs the most programs about families, particularly family-themed situation comedies. As a result, its programming contains more child and teen characters. Fox, with its large Sunday-night “Animation Domination” cartoon block, has the second-most programs containing child and teen characters using profanity and sexual dialogue. Prime-time programming on CBS and NBC is largely targeted at adults, includes few family-themed programs, and contains relatively few child or teenage characters. “Historically such instances of child-delivered vulgarity were few and far between. The fact that there is a rapid increase is truly troubling for parents and families. It is inexcusable that parents cannot trust the TV ratings to be accurate, and we will redouble our efforts to replace the current, broken, industry-controlled content rating system with one that instead serves the interests of those whom the system is intended to protect -- families,” said Winter. Dr. Brad J. Bushman, professor of Communication & Psychology at Ohio State University, said that children can be affected by hearing this kind of explicit language on TV. “Based on social learning theory, the findings from this content analysis study are troubling. Children are likely to learn profanity and sexual language from the models they observe in the TV programs they watch. Because these models are rewarded for their behaviors (e.g., audience members laugh when they use profane or sexual language) and because the models are young people viewers can identify with, viewers should be especially likely to imitate them. Practically, this type of language can lead to sexual objectification of females and other undesirable outcomes,” he said. Jerry Mathers, the actor who played “The Beaver” on the classic TV show, “Leave it to Beaver,” and a PTC Advisory Board member, added, "Television is a unique social media in that it portrays characters in our home who become familiar and in some ways, especially to children, role models of hip, cool, or in some cases, someone you wouldn’t want to be. When profane and sexual dialogue is considered the norm because our children are seeing a small but powerful group of role models using offensive language, they may incorporate this into their own speech pattern because they feel this is a way to be accepted by their peers. Parents need to trust that the TV ratings are accurate and responsible so that they can make effective choices about what their children may view.” Full details will be coming in January 2017.

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