In the study, researchers analyzed three episodes each of
the top 50 TV programs for children ages 2 through 11. They were looking for
social aggression—non-physical bullying that’s limited to words or body
language. And they found it, in spades. More than 90 percent of the programs depicted
social aggression—on average, 14 incidents per hour.
Physical violence in the media has received lots of attention.
But this was one of the first studies to look at kids’ exposure to social
aggression on TV.
It turned out that social bullying was not only common, but
also especially distressing in the way it was portrayed. In the storylines on kids’ TV, such
behavior was rarely punished, and few characters who acted this way showed any
remorse. Plus, social aggression was more likely than the physical kind to be
presented in humorous scenes.
The bottom line: Because it’s depicted as consequence-free
and even funny, social bullying may come across as a good thing to young
viewers. For that reason, kids may be especially likely to learn and imitate
the behavior, according to study lead author Nicole Martins, PhD, an assistant
professor of telecommunications at Indiana University.
Monitoring the Mean
It’s tempting to dismiss social bullying as no big deal, the
way many TV storylines seem to do. Unfortunately, in the off-screen world, such
behavior may be far from harmless and laughable.
Young victims of teasing, taunts, malicious gossip, and
other forms of social bullying may be rejected by their classmates, leading to loneliness
and poor self-esteem. Plus, research suggests that social bullying may
contribute to depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and, in the most tragic
As a parent, you can help discourage social bullying by
keeping an eye on what your kids are watching on TV. Don’t assume a program is
kid-friendly just because it doesn’t contain physical violence. In a statement about the
study, Martins noted, “Parents should be more aware of portrayals that may
not be explicitly violent in a physical sense but are nonetheless antisocial in