Why does the Parents Television Council research and write the studies it does?
It’s a question rarely asked, but one that deserves an answer.
Sometimes, our studies are spurred by outside events. In the wake of the horrific school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the PTC compared the amount of gun violence on TV in 2018 to that after the last major school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012, and found it had greatly increased…as was detailed in our study, A Dress Rehearsal for Tragedy.
But more often, our studies are the result of ongoing observation and research. The PTC has a crack, trained research staff led by a Ph.D. All members of the research department have backgrounds in media, and are skilled in detecting trends in programming. These individuals watch and document the content in all original prime-time programming (except news and sports) on the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and the CW).
As a result, these staffers are very aware of what is happening on current TV. They then meet and discuss what they’re seeing, not only in terms of individual, specific instances of content offensive to viewers or dangerous to children, but also broader trends in programming. For example, in 2016, PTC analysts noted an increase in the amount of profanity and sex talk being used by teen and child characters on situation comedies. The result was PTC’s 2016 study, Trash-Talking Teens. Similarly, programs based on fairy tales and other previously “kid-friendly” stories, but with darker, much more “adult” content, were a programming trend which was noted in our study, We’re Not in Kansas Anymore: Fantasy-Themed Prime-Time Broadcast Programming Unsafe for Children.
And so with our most recent study, Lewd by Example. PTC analysts noted an increase in incidences of adult characters inappropriately using explicit language (particularly about sex) in front of teens and even young children during scripted prime-time programs. In fact, every “family comedy” program on Fox and NBC contained instances of adults using sexual dialogue in front of children, and over 80% of ALL prime-time broadcast network “family comedies” did. The worst shows, in terms of using sex talk in front of kids, were NBC’s A.P. Bio, The Mick and Family Guy (Fox), American Housewife (ABC), and Life in Pieces (CBS).
TV discussions of sex have been scientifically proven to influence teens in their own sexual behavior. And at a time when Hollywood is becoming more aware of, and careful about, sexually harassing language used in front of and about adult women, it is continuing to use sex talk in front of children – both child actors, and child viewers at home.