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

    by  • November 16, 2016 • Broadcast Decency, Press Release, Profanity, Sex, Studies • 5 Comments

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

    1. D
      November 23, 2016 at 9:38 pm

      Let’s say you get your wish and no profane words are ever heard on broadcast television ever again. There are still plenty of ways for children to read or hear profane words. They can read them on the Internet, in books, in magazines, in graffiti sprayed on or carved into walls, sometimes even in newspapers. They can hear them in music, in movies on DVD or Blu-Ray, from their friends at school, from other people on the street, even from their own parents. It’s not a question of if someone will hear or read a bad word, it’s a question of when and where. The four-letter word starting with the letter F that will cause a movie to be rated R by the MPAA if used more than once or in a sexual context was invented in the 1670s. Parents should work to protect their children from bad influences, but realize that they will not always be successful. Parents should also teach their kids the difference between fantasy and reality and the difference between right and wrong.

      A lot of people who don’t use profanity think people who do use profanity use it because they hear it from other sources or because they have a low vocabulary. But people who do use profanity will say they do so for the following reasons:

      “Because (insert person’s name/situation/event here) makes me so angry!”. It’s hard to remember all 200,000 words of the English language, especially in the heat of the moment. If people use profane language frequently, I believe having them take anger management classes would be more effective than asking them to expand their vocabulary.

      “It’s the only way I can get his/her/their attention!”. This misconception will be the hardest to eradicate, because it seems like absolute truth to people in certain relationships or certain subcultures. If you complain about their language, they’ll say “Well, I’ve had to live with this person/work in this field for the past (insert number here) years and you haven’t, so you don’t know what you’re talking about!”. I don’t know how to get around that, but I suspect learning as much as you can about the relationship or the subculture in question before swooping in to complain about their use of profanity.

      “I don’t want to be a outcast/goody two-shoes/nerd.”. These people believe that using profanity is the best way to make the most friends. To get around this, you need to prove that profanity in real life is not as frequent as profanity in works of fiction. In a study of 600,000 phone calls over a twelve-month period, Ohio was found to be the most profane state, with 1 out of 150 calls containing profanity. In Washington, only 1 out of 300 calls contained profanity. This proves that the majority of phone calls made to businesses do not contain profanity. The study also found that two-thirds of profanity was spoken by males, that profanity was more likely in the morning than in the afternoon, and that calls lasting longer than 10 minutes had the most profanity. This study was done by Marchex in 2013. Another thing to point out is that even if a person never uses profane words, they may be willing to break other rules. In the Disney movie Enchanted, Giselle never says any bad words, but she makes a dress out of Robert’s curtains and uses Robert’s credit card without his knowledge or permission. So I would not call Giselle a goody two-shoes because that is not a truthful label for her. I would not call anyone a goody two-shoes because I believe every human being on the face of the earth has broken at least one rule in their life.

      You are doing the right thing by going after profanity on broadcast TV and you should continue to do so. But you should also take the motives behind profanity into account as well as the sources of profanity to maximize your chances of success.

    2. Justin
      November 25, 2016 at 9:23 pm

      “The Real O’Neals” definitely is the worst show on broadcast TV right now.

    3. Jonathan
      December 2, 2016 at 7:33 am

      Oh the humanity of child actors saying “naughty” language. Get over it. You can’t stop writers from writing the dialogue they want for their characters.

    4. Carole Shearer
      December 3, 2016 at 4:36 pm

      This is very disturbing. Why isn’t there more outrage. Are parents not aware or do they just not care, or just don’t get it.

      • F66
        December 7, 2016 at 9:10 pm

        Parents may be unaware of this problem, they may not care about this problem, or they may feel powerless to do anything about it. Lots of parents give their children R-rated movies or M-rated games, or even allow them to drink alcoholic beverages , using the rationale, “they’ll do it anyway.”. They believe it’s wrong, but they feel that everything and everyone is working against them, so they give up. Now you could argue that those individuals should not have had kids, but if too many people feel afraid to have kids, the future of civilization will be in serious jeopardy.

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