Teenage bullying common

A scene from the motion picture 'Mean Girls.' Research finds that bullying is common in 92 percent of shows watched by youths. / Gannett News Service

(Gannett) Long before Hollywood introduced the concept of "Mean Girls," people knew that childhood can be full of name-calling, manipulation and we-won't-talk-to-you freeze-outs. Now, a new study finds that "social bullying" isn't just a real-life phenomenon. It's also common in the TV shows popular among kids aged 2 to 11.

From "American Idol" to "The Simpsons," the study authors found, the people and characters who appear on these shows are often mean. They insult one another, connive to get what they want and bully others in nonphysical ways.

The researchers said 92 percent of 150 episodes reviewed featured some form of "social aggression" - on average about 14 incidents per hour.

"Lots of attention has been paid to exposure to nudity and violence in the media, and rightfully so," said study lead author Nicole Martins, an assistant professor in the department of telecommunications at Indiana University. "But parents are largely unaware that programs could be teaching children to be cruel and mean to each other as well. Just because a show is low on physical violence doesn't mean it's harmless."

The researchers examined 150 episodes of the 50 most popular shows among kids 2-11 in 2005. They included a variety of shows for kids (such as "Hannah Montana," "Suite Life of Zack & Cody," "SpongeBob SquarePants") and a few adult shows ("American Idol," "Survivor," "The Simple Life 3").

"Social aggression is pretty prevalent," Martins said. Females tend to perpetrate it, she noted, and they are often attractive.

The researchers had a wide definition of social bullying. For example, they counted the insult wars between the judges of "American Idol" and a scene on "The Simpsons" when Mr. Burns told Homer Simpson he was a "waste of skin and fat."

"We laugh at it," Martins said, "but in real life, it's harmful. Also, we don't see any punishments or negative consequences for these behaviors. People call each other mean names and say mean things about each other, and nothing happens. The victim takes it or fires back."

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