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Teens and Wrestling: Watching Leads to Dating Violence

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WebMD Health News

April 28, 2001 -- Violence, verbal abuse, and alcohol -- that's what professional wrestling depicts today. And lots of high school kids are watching it. Now a new study finds that the more kids watch, the more likely they will be involved in fights, dating violence, and other potentially dangerous behaviors -- especially girls who watch.

"[Kids] see the violence between men and women, they see body types of women that are very unrealistic, and they see women as people you can beat up and call derogatory names," says Robert H. DuRant, PhD, a professor and vice chair of pediatrics at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C. He presented his study findings today at the Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting.

"We know that the more kids are exposed to [wrestling], the more it affects them," he tells WebMD.

In the study of more than 2,200 public high school students -- 51% female and 38% ethnic minorities -- each was asked a number of questions about the professional wrestling matches they had watched on TV during the previous two weeks. They also were asked whether they use tobacco, alcohol, and other substances, carry weapons, and fight, and whether alcohol or drugs were involved during their last fight with a date, girlfriend, or boyfriend.

DuRant found that more than 60% of adolescent males -- and 35% of females -- watched wrestling during a two-week period. In fact, some were watching very frequently: 25% of males and 9% of females watched six or more times.

"Basically, they're watching every time it comes on," DuRant tells WebMD.

And it's that repeated exposure that affects behavior.

More frequent viewers were more likely to engage in substance abuse and violence and were more likely to instigate dating violence. "Especially the girls -- even though they are watching less wrestling," says DuRant.

In a follow-up survey of the same kids six months later, DuRant found that kids were still watching the same amounts of wrestling. But boys were involved in less risky behaviors, while girls had increased their dangerous behaviors.

Risk of violent behavior increases by 16-18% with each wrestling episode girls watch, says DuRant. For boys, the risk increases by 11% with each episode.

Why the greater impact on girls?

For one thing, girls who watch wrestling are in the minority, explains DuRant. "It doesn't appeal to most. But those who are watching probably already have social risk factors in their lives -- adults who drink, abuse drugs, carry weapons, and fight. What they see in wrestling reinforces these messages."

Late childhood and adolescence is a particularly vulnerable time for kids to be absorbing these messages, he tells WebMD. "Children are still formulating what is appropriate behavior for them to resolve conflicts, solve problems, acquire goals, and command respect," he says.

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