Kids cuss, use sex talk on 'family' TV

by Michael Foust, Guest Reviewer |

LOS ANGELES (Christian Examiner) – Fifty years ago, no one could have imagined young Opie Taylor cursing on television – or, for that matter, any of his playmates cursing, either.

Times, though, have changed, and a new study by the Parents Television Council shows that networks are increasingly airing scripted programs in which teens and children use coarse language and sexual dialogue.

The PTC study examined 205.5 hours of primetime programming on the four major broadcast networks From February to May 2015, and found that networks are having kids and teens use language on television that – decades ago – would have caused an outrage. The language included such un-bleeped words as a--, he--, ba---rd and bi-ch, as well as bleeped words sh-- and f---.

ABC led the way with 81 instances of coarse language and 42 instances of sexual dialogue, followed by Fox (24 instances of profanity, 11 sexual dialogue), NBC (3, 0) and CBS (1, 2).

Frequent violators included ABC's The Goldbergs, Modern Family and The Real O'Neals, and Fox's Bob's Burgers, The Simpsons and Family Guy.

Six years ago, a PTC study showed that coarse language had increased on primetime broadcast television by 70 percent, from 2005 to 2010. The newest study, released Tuesday, shows that the use of coarse language now includes all ages.

Media experts say the study should concern parents for several reasons – in part because children model other children's behavior.

"Television is a unique social media in that it portrays characters in our home who become familiar and in some ways, especially to children, role models of hip, cool or in some cases, someone you wouldn't want to be," said Jerry Mathers, the actor who played the Beaver on the Leave it to Beaver, and a PTC advisory board member. "When profane and sexual dialogue is considered the norm because our children are seeing a small but powerful group of role models using offensive language, they may incorporate this into their own speech pattern because they feel this is a way to be accepted by their peers. Parents need to trust that the TV ratings are accurate and responsible so that they can make effective choices about what their children may view."

Brad J. Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University, called the findings "troubling."

"Children are likely to learn profanity and sexual language from the models they observe in the TV programs they watch," Bushman said. "Because these models are rewarded for their behaviors (e.g., audience members laugh when they use profane or sexual language) and because the models are young people viewers can identify with, viewers should be especially likely to imitate them. Practically, this type of language can lead to sexual objectification of females and other undesirable outcomes."

PTC President Tim Winter said that historically, the usage of coarse language by children within the media "were few and far between."

"The fact that there is a rapid increase is truly troubling for parents and families," Winter said. "It is inexcusable that parents cannot trust the TV ratings to be accurate, and we will redouble our efforts to replace the current, broken, industry-controlled content rating system with one that instead serves the interests of those whom the system is intended to protect – families."