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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 November, 2004, 00:06 GMT
Nursery rhyme violence 'tops TV'
Humpty Dumpty
Humpty Dumpty: a brutal end
Nursery rhymes expose children to far more violent incidents than an average evening watching TV, researchers say.

A Bristol Royal Hospital for Children team found the frequency of nursery rhyme violence was more than 10 times greater than in pre-9pm programmes.

The tongue-in-cheek study examined 25 popular rhymes, Archives of Disease in Childhood reported.

Examples of violent incidents included Humpty Dumpty being hurt in a fall and Jack and Jill tumbling down a hillside.

Humpty Dumpty: Nasty head injuries from fall
Jack and Jill: Double hillside fall tragedy
Simple Simon: Tongue and finger injuries. Thrown to the ground by a cow
Six in a Bed: Repeated bedtime tumbles
Rock-A-Bye Baby: Cradle crashes to the ground from a great height
The researchers admit their study was not entirely serious - but they say it does make the point that blaming television for increasing levels of violence is too simplistic.

The researchers gathered data from TV regulator Ofcom on depictions of violence over a two-week period in 2001, in the viewing period between 5.30pm and 9pm.

They found 1,045 episodes of violence were screened on five UK TV channels during the two weeks.

Half of the TV programmes contained violence, compared with 44% of the nursery rhymes.

Powerful imagination

But the levels of accidental and aggressive violence were twice as high in the nursery rhymes as they were on TV, the researchers said.

Overall, 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.

The researchers read the nursery rhymes to a toddler, but said it was difficult to gauge anything from the child's reaction.

Although nursery rhymes were less graphic than TV, imagination could be more powerful, they argued.

Television was twice as likely to show or mention the result of the violence, compared with the nursery rhymes.

"This allows the child, having heard a rhyme, to make their own image and conclusion as to the effects and outcome of the episode.

"At times this may be more disturbing than having the outcome spelled out, as children often over interpret the results of such acts."

It is estimated that 10% of all crime in England and Wales is committed by school-age children.

'Context key'

Brian Harrison-Jennings, general secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, told BBC News it was too simplistic to blame television alone for problem behaviour.

But he doubted whether nursery rhymes were a significant factor.

He said: "There is a certain element of fear and frightening behaviour in nursery rhymes, but the key is the context in which the violence is mediated to the child.

"Nursery rhymes are usually read to a child when they are sitting in a comfortable position with their parent's arm around them on the sofa, and the parent makes a joke of it.

"In that way, the child is able to enjoy the fear and excitement of the nursery rhyme while being able to distinguish between pretend violence and real violence.

"This is not always the case with television, where a child may be watching frightening scenes alone."

Lee Miller, of the charity Young Minds, said the most important factor determining the behavioural development of children was their relationship with the key adults in their life.

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