Kids' Shows Twice as Violent as Adult TV

Children’s television programs are nearly twice as violent as those directed towards adults.

A new study from the Parents Television Council, “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing,” reveals that children are exposed on average to 7.68 incidents of violence per hour of children’s television programming as opposed to 4.71 incidents of violence per hour during prime time programming geared towards adults and families.

“One might quickly dismiss violence in children’s programming as inconsequential, but what has changed is that the violence is ubiquitous, often sinister, and in many cases, frighteningly realistic,” said L. Brent Bozell, president of the PTC. “In addition, one of the more disturbing trends in this study was the amount of adult-oriented subtext that was laced throughout both the animated and live-action programs.”

The study was conducted during a three-week period during the summer of 2005. PTC monitored after-school and Saturday morning programs for school-aged children ages 5 to 10 on eight networks: ABC, Fox, NBC, WB, ABC Family, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. A total of 443.5 hours of television were monitored for the study.

In addition to large amounts of violence observed, the study found that there were 1.93 instances of “verbal aggression” per hour, 1.49 instances of “disruptive, disrespectful or otherwise problematic attitudes and behavior” per hour, 0.62 instances involving “sexual content” per hour, and 0.56 instances of “offensive language” per hour shown on average by the networks’ programming for children.

“Studies have shown exposure to TV violence to be positively associated with aggressive behavior in some children and exposure to sexual content increases the likelihood that children will become sexually active earlier in life,” according to PTC’s press release. “The extended argument implies that exposure to coarse language and disrespectful attitudes will also negatively affect children.”

Breaking Down the Violence

Incidents of violence were divided into several subcategories for the analysis: cartoon violence (e.g. anvil dropped on Wiley E. Coyote’s head), fantasy violence (e.g. aliens), physical violence (e.g. fighting, torture), martial arts, use of weapons, violence involving objects (e.g. explosions), fire, implied violence, death implied or depicted or graphic descriptions.

The PTC did note that “not all violence is created equal,” which is why the study differentiates various acts of violence.

In the report PTC referred to a study conducted by Harvard University in 2004 and found that animated movies are much more violent than live-action films.

“Comparing the amount of violence in non-animated and animated G-rated films, the authors [of the study] found a significantly higher amount of violence in animated films than in non-animated films,” reported the Harvard University Gazette’s article regarding the study.

The Worst Offenders

Programs on The Cartoon Network and ABC Family Channel had the highest frequency of violence (10.96 instances per hour and 8.73 instances per hour), while the Disney Channel had the least (0.95 instances per hour). (Ironically, as the study points out, the highest and lowest rated violent networks are owned by the same company.)

The WB, according to the study, “had the highest levels of offensive language, verbal abuse, sexual content and offensive/excretory references,” while Fox had the lowest.

“This disturbing trend signifies that parents can no longer be confident that their children will not have access to dark violence, sexual innuendo or offensive language on entertainment programming targeted toward children,” Bozell said. “We do realize that this is probably not a deliberate effort to undermine the social fabric of young children, but this thoughtlessness still produces the same end result.”

Shows to Avoid

Top television show offenders are broken down into subcategories below. The WB won in four out of the six categories, two of which went to the same show “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends.”

  • Violence: WB’s Teen Titans (21.7 incidents/episode)
  • Verbally Abusive Language: WB’s “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” (4.3 incidents/episode)
  • Offensive Language: Nickelodeon’s “Danny Phamtom” (1.7incidents/episode)
  • Problematic Attitudes and Behaviors: ABC’s “Lizzie McGuire” (7 incidents/episode)
  • Sexual Content: WB’s “The Batman” (1.33 incidents/episode)
  • Offensive or Excretory Content: WB’s “Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends” (3.66 incidents/episode)

“Broadcast and cable networks must be held accountable for allowing such inappropriate content to corrupt our children,” Bozell said. “We must also hold advertisers responsible for underwriting these messages.”