A new study links middle-schoolers’ exposure to profanity via TV or video games to their use of cuss words and aggressive behavior.
You might not find this surprising, especially if you’ve ever eavesdropped on a group of 12- or 13-year-olds where the number of F-bombs may be only exceeded by the number of references to “Call of Duty: Black Ops” or Demi Lovato.
But the authors say their study is the first to examine how exposure to profanity actually affects teen behavior.
The look at profanity's connection to aggression comes after “hundreds of studies have shown links between exposure to violence, sexual behavior and substance use in media and subsequent behavior,” the scientists write in a report published online Monday in Pediatrics.
The researchers asked 223 students at a large Midwestern middle school to complete a bunch of questionnaires about their exposure to profanity on TV shows or video games, what they thought about profanity and whether they used it, or whether they engaged in aggressive behavior, such as hitting others or spreading rumors about them.
Because the scientists didn’t follow the kids over time, they can’t be sure whether hearing and using profanity leads to aggressive behavior or vice versa. Statistical analysis of their findings suggested the former was more likely to be the case, they wrote, but their study couldn’t prove it.
“Parents should be looking at what their kids are watching," says lead author Sarah Coyne, an assistant professor of family life at Brigham Young University. She notes that profanity appears to be creeping in to more “family friendly” programming than ever.
“The King’s Speech” was my older daughter’s first (and so far only) R-rated movie. (It earned an R rating for a particularly rousing string of cuss words, including the F-bomb and a bunch of vulgar Britishisms.) She was going on 14 when my husband and I took her to see it. In the car on the way to the theater, I explained why it was rated R and told her it wasn’t anything she hadn’t heard at home. (Well, except for the British cuss words -- I don't think she's too familiar with those.)
For that matter, Coyne says it’s important for mom and dad to watch the potty mouth at home, too.
“I think that most people slip up from time to time in terms of profanity,” she says. “Just be as careful as you can. If you do slip up, maybe apologize.”
Coyne, as all faculty and students are supposed to do, adheres to BYU’s “Honor Code,” which includes a commitment to use clean language. “Holy cow!” seems to be one of her favorite expressions.
That and, she admits somewhat sheepishly, “crap!”
“I say ‘crap’ all the time,” Coyne says. “I would not consider it a profanity, but it’s not a nice word.”
Coyne has a 3-year-old daughter. Guess what her first word was? Yep.
What about you? Do you cuss in front of your kids? How do you keep your language in check?