Behavior influenced by profanity in media

BYU study finds profanity link to aggression in teens


Profanity in media is linked to teen aggression, a recent study out of Brigham Young University found. Research shows that exposure to profanity directly relates to an individual's beliefs and behavior.

"We were really interested in how the media can influence your view about profanity," Laura Stockdale, a coauthor of the study, said. "So we looked at if [teens] think it is OK to use profanity, if [they] think that it's normal and appropriate, and then [their] actual profanity use and how [their] profanity use is related to aggressive behavior."

Drawing results from questionnaires filled out by 223 adolescents attending a large middle school located in the Midwest, the study showed a correlation between profanity in media and aggression with students of all different backgrounds. Students filled out a survey about the video games they play, the shows they like to watch on TV, movies they watch and how much time they spend using different forms of media. They shared their opinions on profanity, and whether or not they let the media they like affect their own language and actions.

"We found that there is still a really strong relationship between watching media — or any type of media — that has lots of profanity, and one's belief about profanity," Sister Stockdale said. "If [an individual] watches a lot of movies or plays a lot of video games that have a lot of profanity, that was related to [that person] thinking that profanity is OK, and that [profanity use] was more appropriate and more normal. ... If you think it is OK, you are going to be much more likely to use it."

Although the results of the study weren't a direct cause-and-effect formula, researchers did find a strong correlation between the two. This association can lead to individuals being more aggressive with family, friends, peers and acquaintances and to swearing more.

"The more [someone] makes it a culture, or part of [their] life, [they] make it so much a part of [their] environment that [they] live in this toxic environment all the time," Sister Stockdale said. "It is going to be very difficult for [their] behavior not to reflect the toxic environment [they] have created."

The study asked participants about their reactions to being angry. Researchers asked participants how often they hit, shoved, pushed or kicked when they were angry. They also asked participants about their relationships, probing for answers about gossiping, starting rumors about people or excluding others from a group.

"I was surprised at how much profanity adolescents were exposed to in the media and how non-concerned they seemed to be about it. ... It didn't seem to faze them at all," Sister Stockdale said. "That is why it is really important for parents to have a conversation ... to teach correct principles and raise that child that is willing to get up and walk out of the movie."

Because of the increasing intake and influence of the media in young people's lives, parents must take an active role in their children's media consumption, researchers said.

"Research shows kids these days spend more than 40 hours a week with [the media}," said Sarah Coyne, lead author of the study and professor in the School of Family Life at BYU. "That's a full-time job. ... I think it is kind of a wake-up call for parents. Parents need to be aware. ...

"How often are you watching a show and profanity that you wouldn't use yourself occurs, even in 'family friendly' programs," Sister Coyne said. "That's why it is so important for parents to be active viewers, rather than passive viewers. Parents need to teach their kids as they hear profanity, let it spark a discussion to talk about things and create open communication. You wouldn't let someone walk into your house and say certain things, yet we let things in through our media. ... As a parent we need to bring in the good and keep out the bad."

Being aware helps parents to know what their children are consuming and gives them an opportunity to discuss what is and isn't appropriate.

The "For the Strength of Youth" pamphlet for the young men and young women of the Church encourages teens to participate in "anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy" (Articles of Faith 1:13).

"Whatever you read, listen to, or look at has an effect on you," the pamphlet says. "Therefore, choose only entertainment and media that uplift you. Good entertainment will help you to have good thoughts and make righteous choices. It will allow you to enjoy yourself without losing the Spirit of the Lord."

"Parents are busy and have a lot going on, and sometimes assume the media is going to be much more filtered than it is," Sister Stockdale said. "That is why we have to be so careful of the things that you let come into your home and, on top of that, as things do come into your home you have a conversation about it. Kids learn that even if these things do come into their lives in small doses, they have control over it, and can think about it and know that they don't have to act it out in their own life just because it's what they saw."

Other authors of the study include BYU professor David Nelson and current grad student Ashley Fraser. The full study is published in the medical journal "Pediatrics."

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