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Teens and Wrestling: Watching Leads to Dating Violence

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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.

His previous research shows that among sixth graders, those who are exposed to more violence -- and who have been victimized through bullying, fighting, or threats -- are more likely to use violent means to resolve conflict, says DuRant.

"The more you expose kids to violence, ... the more likely they are to be violent or use a weapon," he tells WebMD.

Wrestling has changed dramatically in recent years, creating a different impact on this generation, DuRant adds. "When I was growing up, the same type of wrestling was on television, and we knew it was fake," he tells WebMD. "But the level of violence today has escalated 100-fold in the last 10 years. What we're seeing is a tremendous amount of violence without appropriate consequences. Actions that would kill or maim someone in wrestling occur without the consequences."

The level of meanness and vulgarity also has increased significantly, says DuRant, as have the negative messages about women. "One message is that it's acceptable for a man to hit a woman -- that it's a way to resolve any difference, that he can use violence against her," he tells WebMD.

Violence is indeed learned behavior, says Deborah Prothrow-Stith, MD, professor of public health practice at the Harvard School of Public Health and author of Deadly Consequences. "The more you experience it, the more you learn it. If you are witnessing violence or being victimized by violence, then you are at greater risk of becoming violent," she tells WebMD.

When violence found in television, music, and video games is all factored in with family and environmental influences, "then you begin to get an accumulation that is daunting, really," Prothrow-Stith says.

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