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Teens and Wrestling: Watching Leads to Dating Violence

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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.

"In other shows that young teens watch, you don't see the intensity of violence and vulgarity and sexual innuendo that you do in wrestling," DuRant says. "Adults understand it's fake, that it's fantasy, and the wrestling industry says that kids know the difference. The thing is, kids may know the difference, but whether it's fantasy or not, wrestling still has an effect on kids' attitudes and behaviors. It still has a negative effect."

DuRant's study and others to come "will show over and over again that victimized children who are hurt -- and then turn to hurt others -- are children who witness aggressive behavior at home and in the community," Prothrow-Stith tells WebMD. "The socialization in America is toward aggressive use of intimidating and violent strategies to solve problems."

Wrestling is "cartoon-ish," she says. "It almost takes the worst of cartoons and makes it worse by humanizing it. Instead of the roadrunner getting bumped on the head, it's a woman. It's supposed to be funny, supposed to be entertaining. Kids learn to laugh at it."

"There are few or no messages in this society that encourage forgiveness, celebrate empathy, teach negotiation and compromise and getting along to our children," she tells WebMD. "For parents, who are expected to buffer and mitigate and counter all the junk that's out there, it's overwhelming."

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