Watch Your Mouth! An Analysis
of Profanity Uttered by Children
on Prime-Time Television
Barbara K. Kaye
School of Journalism and Electronic Media
University of Tennessee–Knoxville
Barry S. Sapolsky
Department of Communication
Florida State University
This study examines the frequency and types of offensive language spoken on
prime-time television in 2001, particularly on programs rated acceptable for children
and teenagers, and the use of profane language by characters under the age of
21. The findings are compared to similar studies conducted in 1990, 1994, and 1997
to determine whether the use of profanity by child and young adult characters has increased
over an 11-year period.
Age and content warnings inadequately protect children from profanity. TV-PG
programs contain as much off-color language as TV-14 programs, and more coarse
language could be found in programs not given an L warning. Further, the earliest
hour of prime time, when children are more likely to be viewing, contains significantly
more instances of profanity than the time period of 10 to 11 p.m. However,
characters under the age of 21 rarely utter profane words, and they are just as infrequently
spoken to with such language.
The Bernie Mac Show:
Conversation between Uncle Bernie and his nephewand two nieces (all under the age
Uncle Bernie: Look at the big ass donut; anyonewant a big ass donut? It’s the best big
ass donut I’ve ever had in my life, damn. Sure no one wants a bite of this big ass do-
MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2004, 7(4), 429–452
Requests for reprints should be sent to Barry S. Sapolsky, Department of Communication, Florida
State University, 334 Diffenbaugh Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306. E-mail: email@example.com
Do Not Copy
nut? You know what I should have got—I should have got—damn—I shoulda got a
big ass chocolate shake. You can have anything you want, just ask.
Niece: Can I have a big ass bite?
Uncle Bernie: Watch your mouth!...