Children and teens exposed to profanity in television and video games are more likely to show aggressive behavior, according to research published in Pediatrics. The study looked at how kids viewed profanity and measured their aggression. They evaluated physical aggression, i.e. kicking or hitting others, as well as relational aggression. An example of relational aggression is when kids purposefully spread gossip to ruin someone’s reputation. Essentially, it looks at how mean a kid can be.

When they asked kids how they viewed profanity, they were looking to see if the kids thought it was “okay” to swear. Kids were asked if they rarely, sometimes or always used swear words in conversations with their friends.

Not surprisingly, children and teens who were exposed to more profanity were more likely to answer that they almost always used profanity in conversations with their friends. They were also more likely to hit, punch and be mean.

We know that kids who are exposed to violence on television are more likely to behave in a violent, aggressive manner. However, this is the first study to look at the effect of profanity by itself.

When people hear profanity, the researchers note that their heart rates will also increase and they can develop rapid, shallow breathing. These reactions are part of our body’s natural “fight or flight” response system. The “fight or flight” response is a natural way for our body to respond to a stress. It gets our body ready to run away or to face the stress (fight.)

Clearly, exposure to profanity has many negative effects. Alice Park of Time, appropriately made the connection between aggression and bullying. She reminds us that kids who are more aggressive are more likely to bully, “so controlling youngsters’ exposure to profanity may be one way to stem the tide of bullying among teens.”

This research reminds us that we need to continue to pay attention to profanity in the media. We also need to think about what we hear as adults, and remember to turn off the television. New AAP policy recommends that children watch no t.v. under the age of 2. They also note that if we have our “adult” shows on, our kids are listening and learning and this “background media” can be detrimental to their development.

As parents, it is important that we continue to pay attention to the ratings of television shows, movies and video games. It is important to continue to think about this even as our children grow into teens and young adults. This is also a great reminder to model good behavior. Watch the swear words at home, and think about how we communicate with our children and the adults in our lives.

If our children are so affected by what they hear on the television, think about how they might be affected by what they hear at home.

The advice provided in this article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical diagnosis, advice or treatment for specific medical conditions.