Just a few years ago, the center of 11-year-old Anthony Arroyave's sporting universe was baseball's Ken Griffey Jr. No longer. Now it's Triple H, Jeff Hardy and Scotty Too Hotty. Home runs are boring--he's "hooked" on the drama. When he's not watching matches on TV, Anthony's playing WrestleMania 2000 on his Nintendo or practicing the Power Bomb and other submission holds on pals at his south Florida elementary school. Although his mom disapproves, Anthony dreams of a career in the ring. He's even thought up his character: a "heel" named Ice Tray who wears silver tights, black boots, red hair and a black goatee.
Scottie Too Hotty as a role model? Can this be good for kids? Not really, say psychologists who study the effects of TV violence on children. In fact, most advise keeping youngsters under 8 away from wrestling shows; they're too immature to differentiate between fantasy and reality. Studies have shown that kids who are exposed to on-screen carnage at an early age are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior as teens and adults. Wrestling in particular could be harmful because it suggests that disputes should be settled by fighting rather than talking. The sexual content is also obviously inappropriate for young children.
Parents should be equally vigilant in monitoring the viewing habits of middle-schoolers, especially preteen boys. They're struggling to establish their identities, says John Murray, professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University, and can become fixated on "hypermasculine role models... of what a boy should be." That's why boys this age are huge fans of action stars like Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger. But watching too much of this stuff could make boys aggressive or even fearful, Murray says, because they might see the world as "a mean and dangerous place... as dangerous as it is on TV."
For kids this age (and for older teens as well), explaining what's wrong with wrestling is more practical than forbidding it outright. "Forbidden fruit is a lot more appealing," says Steve Danish, a sports psychologist at Virginia Commonwealth University. "They'll just watch it at a friend's house." Instead, Danish advises "demystifying" the action, explaining that wrestlers are actors, not athletic idols. In fact, if anything, they're role models of how to be a bad sport. "They trash-talk and take advantage of other people's failures," Danish says. No major leaguer would ever do that, right?