Teenagers more prone to violence after watching wrestling: study

Up to parents, WWF says: School principals noticed boys rowdier the day after shows

National Post
May 1, 2021
By Heather Sokoloff National Post
with files from The Associated Press

Adolescents who watch wrestling on television are more likely to start a physical fight with their dates, according to a recent study.

"The bottom line is that we are affected by what we expose ourselves to," said Robert DuRant, vice-chairman of pediatrics at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina and lead author of the study.

"It's true kids see a lot of violent images every day ... and the nudity, the violence, the degradation of women, the threatening, all of it is reinforced in wrestling."

The findings were announced at a weekend meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Baltimore.

Among teenagers who watched wrestling in the previous two weeks, girls were 18% more likely and boys 11% more likely to have a physical fight with a date.

The incidence of violence more than doubled if the teenagers watched wrestling twice within the same period.

"I'm not arguing that watching wrestling causes date fighting," said Dr. DuRant. "But I'm saying that having this behaviour modelled for you over and over is a statistically significant reinforcing factor."

Dr. DuRant began the study at the request of local school principals who noticed boys were especially rowdy on Tuesdays, wrestling each other and body-slamming girls, calling them "bitches" and "hos."

The principals suspected the behaviour was linked to the World Wrestling Federation Entertainment Inc.'s Raw is War and World Championship Wrestling's Monday Night Nitro, which air on Monday nights.

Dr. DuRant surveyed 2,228 high school students in the suburban North Carolina county where he works. Among males, 62% of boys watched wrestling, while almost 25% watched it six or more times during the previous two weeks. Among females, 35% watched wrestling and 9% watched it six or more times.

The study began in 1999, a few months before a 14-year-old Florida boy killed a six-year-old girl, alleging he was imitating a body-slamming move he had seen wrestlers perform on television. He was convicted of first-degree murder last month after the judge said the death could not be blamed on the influence of professional wrestling.

A WWF spokesman said Dr. DuRant's study ignored other influences, such as a child's home life, that might account for date violence.

"There is a lot of discussion going on as to how much influence television has on the behaviour of teenagers," said Gary Davis, spokesman for the WWF, which is based in Stamford, Conn.

"It's not a children's show, but if a parent decides it's appropriate for their child, we urge them to watch with them.

"The parent is the final arbiter in the home as to what is and is not an appropriate entertainment choice."

Ben Gervey, a social psychologist who consults with the WWF, said he surveyed 1,500 wrestling fans about their viewing habits and found more than 80% of adults who watch wrestling with their children consider it important family time.

Dr. DuRant said he is particularly concerned children do not understand the consequences of the wrestlers' violent actions, as the television stunts are staged.

"If anything like that happened in real life, the wrestlers would not survive the match, or they would have serious brain damage," he said.

In one wrestling match, said Dr. DuRant, a man dangled a woman upside down and then dropped her on her head, knocking her unconscious.

"In reality, I know this act would have broken her neck and probably would have killed her," he said.

A middle-school principal involved in the study said the 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds at his school do not understand that television wrestling is fiction.

"I have said to students, 'You know guys, this is not real,' " said William Peay. "And they say, 'Of course it's real. It's on television."