There are plenty of studies showing a link between violent TV and children's aggressive behavior, but a new study makes the unusual claim that watching a specific sport on TV - wrestling - is linked with date fighting. The results were presented at the Pediatric Academic Societies meeting in Baltimore in April.
The study of more than 2,200 North Carolina high school students may be especially shocking to adults because it reported that 63 percent of the boys had watched wrestling on TV during the past two weeks, as had 35 percent of the girls. In fact, one out of every four boys and one out of 11 girls had watched TV wrestling six or more times during the prior two weeks.
Someone who has never watched TV wrestling might be shocked to hear a description of a match: "A man dangled a woman upside down and then dropped her on her head, knocking her unconscious," recalled Robert DuRant, professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine and the author of the study. DuRant speculated that in a real fight this would have broken her neck and killed her. He added that the announcer stated that she "deserved it" because she had previously cheated on the wrestler.
The boys and girls who watched wrestling were more likely to start a physical fight with a date or be a victim in a date fight, use Ritalin without a prescription, and carry a gun or other weapon. Boys who watched wrestling were also more likely to spit tobacco and drive after drinking. Girls who watched wrestling were more likely to fight at school, be injured in a fight, use alcohol, use alcohol at school, use marijuana and ride with a driver who has been drinking. For both genders, more frequent viewing of TV wrestling was linked to drug or alcohol use while dating.
When the students were studied six months later, the girls who watched wrestling in October 1999 were still involved in dating violence and other health risk behavior, but this was not true for boys.
DuRant speculates that exposure to violence on TV wrestling "doesn't in itself cause violence," but in combination with other life experiences, "can affect what is perceived as socially acceptable behavior." Consider, for instance, Lionel Tate, the 14-year-old Florida boy convicted last month of killing a six-year-old girl (when he was 12) by imitating a move he'd seen on TV wrestling. In other words, watching wrestling may be a symptom of other problems and also contribute to those problems. Given these findings, youth workers should consider how they might discourage youth viewing of TV wrestling, and discourage the kind of imitative behavior that it seems to inspire.
Diana Zuckerman, Ph.D., is executive director of the National Center for Policy Research for Women and Families, based in Washington, D.C. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.