The study of 223 middle school students found that exposure to profanity in the media was "significantly related to beliefs about profanity." In turn, teens who cursed more tended to be more aggressive, if not physically then relationally.
The authors called it the first study of its kind, and they said the results underscore the need for better ratings and content warnings on television and video games.
"here are many times when programs contain profanity but do not receive the appropriate rating," the authors wrote. "As a whole, the television industry should aspire to be more accurate with ratings concerning profanity. In addition, profanity in television is becoming more frequent, even in 'family-friendly' programs. Such a trend is troubling, especially when taken in the context of our results."
Warnings on video games, the study added, often do not include a warning that a game has a "live" component whereby gamers can chat with each other. In that mode, teens "might be exposed to vast amounts of profanity" from other participants.
"Game descriptions should include warnings to parents regarding exposure to profanity or other questionable conversation through this route," the authors, who are from the School of Family Life at Brigham Young University, wrote.
The middle school students named their three favorite television programs and video games and listed the number of hours they spent watching TV or playing games. They also were asked about their usage of profanity. The study included a control to account for the violence the teens experienced in the programs and games.
"Parents and policy-makers should consider the appropriateness and implications of adolescents' exposure to profanity in media," the authors wrote.
The authors said there had been hundreds of studies examining the impact from exposure to sexuality, violence and substance abuse but no study examining the impact of exposure to profanity. The study was titled "Profanity in Media Associated with Attitudes and Behavior Regarding Profanity Use and Aggression" and was published in the November edition of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press.
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