The amount of violence depicted in children's nursery rhymes is 10 times greater than what is broadcast on British television before 9pm, suggests a study in the Archives of Disease in Childhood.
The researchers obtained data on TV viewing habits and the amount of violence on British television from the independent regulator for the UK communications industries Ofcom.
The data referred to depictions of violence broadcast across two weeks for the five UK terrestrial channels in 2001.
The authors then assessed the words of 25 popular nursery rhymes, which they read to a toddler. Violent episodes were classified according to whether they were accidental, aggressive or intentional, and included implied or threatened violence.
Up to 9pm, 1045 episodes of violence were screened on TV over the two weeks. Almost three quarters (71%) of the violence was implied compared with 40% in the nursery rhymes.
Half of the TV programmes contained violence compared with 44% of the nursery rhymes. But the levels of accidental and aggressive violence were twice as high in the nursery rhymes as they were on TV.
"Simple Simon", "Six in a Bed", and "Jack and Jill" scored particularly highly?
Altogether, there were almost five violent scenes per hour of viewing on TV, but there were more than 52 per hour of listening to nursery rhymes.
Around 10% of all crime in England and Wales is committed by school-age children, and TV violence has steadily been increasing, acknowledge the authors. It is estimated that a child watching two hours of cartoons every day will experience 10,000 episodes of violence every year.
Although decidedly tongue in cheek in their approach to this subject, the authors nevertheless make the serious point that while nursery rhymes are less graphic than TV, imagination can be more powerful.
And they point out that through nursery rhymes and literature, children have been exposed to violence long before the advent of TV.
The development of violence in children depends on several factors, they say. "Laying the blame solely on television viewing is simplistic and may divert attention from vastly more complex societal problems," they conclude.
Dr Harvey Marcovitch (on behalf of Dr Patrick Davies)
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