- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Teenagers who watched professional wrestling on TV were more likely to behave violently than other children, researchers reported today, and girls seemed to be more influenced than boys.

Those findings were part of a study suggesting that teenagers who watched wrestling shows had a tendency toward violence, including carrying weapons and fighting on dates. The researchers also found that students who were most likely to fight on dates after they had been drinking or using drugs were the ones who watched wrestling most often.

“It’s yet more evidence that, when it comes to kids and media, learning happens,” said Kimberly Thompson, a professor at Harvard University’s School of Public Health. “Parents have to pay attention to what’s in their kids’ media diet and what they’re seeing and experiencing.”

The study, based on data collected seven years ago, was published today in the August issue of Pediatrics. A team led by Robert H. DuRant, a professor of pediatrics, social science and health policy at Wake Forest’s Baptist Medical Center, surveyed about 2,000 students in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County public high schools in the fall of 1999 and again in April 2000. Slightly more than half the group was male.

“Is this data dated? The answer is no,” Mr. DuRant said. “If you look at the Nielsen ratings [for wresting] on cable TV, over the years, they have not changed.”

Questions included whether the students had recently fought with a boyfriend, girlfriend or date; whether they had been drinking or using drugs before a fight; and whether they had watched professional wrestling on television in the two weeks before each round of the survey.

It found that 63 percent of the boys and 35 percent of the girls watched wrestling during the survey periods and that 25 percent of the boys and 9 percent of the girls watched six or more times. The study found that for both sexes, a greater frequency of watching wrestling was associated with higher rates of problematic behavior.

Mr. DuRant said girls who watched wrestling six or more times over the two-week period had a 170 percent higher chance of starting a fight than those who didn’t watch wrestling. For boys, there was a 77 percent higher rate of initiating a fight among those who watched wrestling.

Gary Davis, a spokesman for World Wrestling Entertainment, rejected the findings.

“In contrast to the findings of this flawed study, many of our fans attest that watching World Wrestling Entertainment programming has been a positive experience for them and their children,” Mr. Davis said. “More than half of these parents consider watching our programs with their children as important family time.”

Anecdotal evidence exists of minors injuring one another by mimicking professional wrestling moves. In 2001, a Florida court sentenced Lionel Tate, then 14, to life in prison for first-degree murder in the 1999 death of 6-year-old Tiffany Eunick from what his defense team called imitations of pro wrestling stunts.

He was released in 2004 after his conviction was overturned on appeal and a plea bargain reached.

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