New research on primetime broadcast television finds that networks are increasingly creating and airing programs in which teenage and even child characters use overtly sexualized and foul language.
The Parents Television Council conducted the study between February and May of this year, examining all primetime shows on the four broadcast networks. Dr. Christopher Gildemeister, author of this new PTC study, says the increase of young TV characters swearing and talking about sex is disconcerting because children are influenced by what they watch.
"As a parent it's hard enough to keep your kid from picking up swear words on the playground or from watching TV,” he says. “But if they've got other kids on TV swearing, that really normalizes it - and that really teaches children that it's perfectly okay, as well as sexualizing the kids to think about things that they're probably too young for."
The PTC study found that Disney-owned ABC had the largest number of instances of profanity and sexualized language spoken by children, with 81 instances of profanity and 42 instances of sexual dialogue during the period of study.
ABC's The Real O'Neals contained more sexual dialogue involving teen and child characters than any other primetime program on broadcast TV. In part, this is because ABC airs the most programs about families, particularly family-themed situation comedies. As a result, its programming contains more child and teen characters.
"It's kind of shocking to think that in just 50 years we have gone from something like Leave it to Beaver, which was also centered around the kids in the family, to The Real O'Neals," Gildemeister said.
FOX, with its large Sunday-night "Animation Domination" cartoon block, has the second largest number of programs containing child and teen characters using profanity and sexual dialogue. Primetime programming on CBS and NBC is largely targeted at adults, includes few family-themed programs, and contains relatively few child or teenage characters.