Teen heartthrobs: Fiction characters who swear are more popular
POPULAR teenage novels contain hundreds of swear words and the most popular characters are the most foul-mouthed, a study has found.
Books from popular series including Harry Potter and Twilight were found to contain language which parents may deem as obscene or vulgar despite some being targeted at children as young as nine.
The study of 40 teenage and young adult books found that characters who swore were generally portrayed as rich, attractive and more popular than those who did not.
Researchers said their paper raised questions over whether books should be given age ratings similar to those used on films and video games to help parents decide whether the material is appropriate for their child.
The team from Brigham Young University found 1522 instances of profanity across the 40 books, an average of 38 per book, with 88 per cent of all books containing at least one swear word.
Mild profanities such as “hell” and “damn” accounted for half the instances, but a further 20 per cent were made up of the “seven dirty words” such as “s---“ and “f---“ which are banned on US prime time television.
Other categories, including sexual words, excretory words or other strong profanities, were less common.
In books aimed at the 9-11 age group swearing was milder and less frequent, with the two final books in the Harry Potter series containing six and 13 profanities respectively, including three “strong” swear words and ten mild words.
But one book in this category, Raven Rise from the Pendragon series, featured seven sexual words, described by researchers as "coarse" descriptions of body parts or sexual behaviour.
In books aimed at older children swearing became more common, with Eclipse and New Moon from the Twilight series featuring 35 profanities from the mild and excretory categories.
One book aimed at over-14s, entitled Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, containing 492 offensive words including 310 of the “seven dirty words”.
A film which uses more than one of these is rated “R” in America, meaning under-17s must be accompanied by an adult.
Across the 40 books studied, characters who swore were more likely to be wealthier, more attractive and more popular or socially influential, the researchers reported.
Prof Sarah Coyne, who led the study, said: “From a social learning standpoint, this is really important because adolescents are more likely to imitate media characters portrayed in positive, desirable ways.”
The study, published in the Mass Communication and Society journal, is the first to examine swearing in teenage literature.
Experts have previously estimated American youths use an average of 90 swear words a day, while separate studies suggest books may have a stronger effect on learning than other forms of media because they require deliberate attention.
The researchers wrote: "We found a wide variety of profanity use in adolescent literature ... however, this is not indicated anywhere on the book itself.
“Thus, it is difficult for readers and parents to make informed decisions regarding whether inappropriate content exists in adolescent literature.”