Debbie Nicholson

New study reveals 92% of children’s television shows involve social bullying

Just as parents had to weed out their children’s television shows featuring physical aggression now may need to re-check the shows for those shows that feature social aggression a form of bullying.

View slideshow: Movies about Bullying

The new study called "Mean on the Screen: Social Aggression in Programs Popular With Children," by researchers; assistant professor Nicole Martins, department of communications at Indian University and Barbara Wilson, professor of communications, vice provost of academic affairs at the University of Illinois.

For the study the professors conducted a content analysis of the fifty most popular children’s shows according to Nielsen Media Research from December 2006 to March 2007. In all, 150 television shows were viewed and analyzed.

Careful attention was given to what was portrayed in the cases of social aggression, whether the behavior was rewarded or punished, justified or committed by an attractive perpetrator.

The findings revealed socially aggressive incidents in 92% of the shows with the following breakdown; 78% were verbal: words to hurt the self-esteem or social standing of another character on the program, insults the most common type of social aggression in 52% of the shows, name calling accounted for 25% of the shows, negative behavior of teasing 10% and sarcasm in 9% of the shows.

Socially aggressive incidents that were non-verbal occurred in 20% of the shows, showing a mean face account for 36%

On average, 14 different incidents of social aggression occurred every hour or once every four minutes, laughter meant to lower the self-esteem of another character in 31% and rolling eyes and pointing finger and simply ignoring the other person was also a common behavior.

Professor Martins stated these findings should help parents and educators recognize that there are socially aggressive behaviors on programs children watch.” "Parents should not assume that a program is OK for their child to watch simply because it does not contain physical violence.”

Martins adds in Parents should be more aware of portrayals that may not be explicitly violent in a physical sense but are nonetheless anti-social in nature.”

Researchers had written in their abstract “compared to the portrayals of physical aggression, social aggression was more likely to be enacted by an attractive perpetrator, to be featured in a humorous context and neither rewarded or punished. In these ways, social aggression on television poses more of a risk for imitation and learning than do portrayals of physical aggression. Findings are discussed in terms of social cognitive theory.”

The researchers concluded while previous research has demonstrated that gossip is one of the most common forms of social aggression in real life, it was rarely seen in children's television shows analyzed for the study. That due to gossip’s indirect nature it may have been seen by program producers to be too subtle for advancing a story’s plot.

Children’s television shows are filled with forms of social bullying.

This new study appears in the Journal of Communications.

More information on bullying can be found online at Stop Bullying.