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Does pop culture promote bullying behaviour?

The case of Amanda Todd, the British Columbia teen who committed suicide after being bullied, continues to appall and intrigue us.

The Globe's Carly Weeks added to the discussion, by speaking up about her own experience overcoming being bullied as a child.

Vigils are planned and the issue was debated in Parliament today.

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In the background, social science researchers are busy looking at problem from all angles: What makes a bully? What motivates them?

And what can be done to stop bullying?

One recent study looked at the possible influence of pop culture - specifically the prevalence of social (as opposed to physical) aggression, in many of the television shows children ages two to 11 watch.

Nicole Martins, Indiana University, and Barbara J. Wilson, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign examined the 50 most popular children's shows according to Nielsen Media Research, according to a statement. Of 150 shows analysed, 92 per cent of the programming contained social aggression.

Bullies who were attractive were rarely punished for their behaviour, they found. Scenes depicting social aggression were often scripted to be funny, unlike depictions of physical bullying - arguably a much more easily-identifiable transgression.

"These findings should help parents and educators recognize that there are socially aggressive behaviours on programs children watch. Parents should not assume that a program is okay for their child to watch simply because it does not contain physical violence. Parents should be more aware of portrayals that may not be explicitly violent in a physical sense but are nonetheless antisocial in nature," Martins said in the statement.

While the researchers said more work would be needed to figure out what kind of impact viewing social aggression would have in the school yard, other experts commented on the links - and offered advice to parents.

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Rahil Briggs, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and a child development specialist, told ABC that parents watch TV with their young children.

"Being able to talk about what you see is a key piece," Briggs told ABC. "In society, we have become more and more aware of the importance of bullying, and it's going to become increasingly necessary to understand the early building blocks of social aggression that may lead to this."

Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of the child and adolescent psychiatry residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC: "Most kids are not going to become violent or socially inappropriate or aggressive based on media, but some per cent will. But we don't know what per cent will. And we don't know how young this starts."

While pop culture is just one of many factors, it is food for parental thought the next time you flick on cartoons and leave the room.

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