December 9, 2013
News Review From Harvard Medical School -- Study: Movie Violence, Behaviors Cause for Concern
Popular films rated PG-13 may not be appropriate for teens, a new study says. Researchers studied almost 400 popular movies released between 1985 to 2010. They looked at violence in the movies, as well as other risky behaviors, like smoking, drinking and sex. The researchers found that violent characters often took part in these other risky behaviors. This occurred in R-rated films, which require an adult to be present with their teen. But it also occurred in PG-13 movies. These movies are technically considered okay for kids and teens to see. (Parental caution is strongly advised, however). The researchers urge further studies on the effect such movies can have on teenagers. The journal Pediatrics published the study online. HealthDay News reported on it December 9.
By Henry H. Bernstein, D.O.
Harvard Medical School
What Is the Doctor's Reaction?
Is your teen begging to see the new Hunger Games movie? You might notice that the movie is rated PG-13. This rating comes from the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA). All movies are rated by the same system.
- G (General Audiences): Anyone can see the movie.
- PG (Parental Guidance Suggested): Some parts of the movie may not be right for young children to see.
- PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned): Some parts of the movie may not be right for children under 13 to see.
- R (Restricted): Children under 17 must be with an adult.
Can parents trust these ratings? Maybe not, says a new study published in the journal Pediatrics.
Researchers studied almost 400 popular movies released from 1985 to 2010. They looked at how often a main character did something violent. They checked if these violent characters also engaged in other risky behaviors, like:
- Smoking cigarettes
- Drinking alcohol
- Having sex (being naked, kissing on lips or doing sexual activity)
Among the study's major findings:
- About 90% of the movies had a main character involved in violence.
- More than 3 out of 4 (77%) movies had the violent character showing at least one other risky behavior.
- Almost half of the films (47%) showed the violence occurring with another risky behavior in the same 5-minute scene. Drinking and sex were more common than smoking.
Did the amount of violence with other risky behaviors depend on the MPAA rating? The researchers found that:
- G and PG movies had fewer risky behaviors than PG-13 and R-rated movies.
- There was no difference between PG-13 and R-rated movies.
- These trends did not change over time.
The researchers worry that the MPAA rating system does not take into account violence being shown at the same time as other risky behaviors. This means our youth (especially teens) are watching movies that are not right for their age. This might be related to some teens' willingness to engage in different kinds of risky and antisocial behavior.
What Changes Can I Make Now?
Remember, YOU are a role model! Your children will do as you do (not as you say). They are more likely to avoid violence and other risky behaviors if you avoid them, too.
Here's what you can do:
- Talk often with your children about the dangers of violence and unhealthy risky behaviors, especially those seen in movies or through technology.
- Know all the different types of media your children use and see every day.
- Limit how much time your children spend seeing movies, watching television and surfing the Internet.
- Don't just rely on movie ratings. Learn more about the movie yourself. Then decide what is right for your child to see.
- Know that there may not be any difference in the amount of violence and other risky behaviors shown in PG-13 rather than R-rated movies.
- Don't watch unsuitable movies or television shows in front of your child.
- Make a family plan for movies to watch and safe ways to use all technology.
- Insist on a good balance with your children’s activities.
- Work to understand the social and emotional development of your child or teen.
- Get ideas and support from others. Speak with your pediatrician if you have any worries.
What Can I Expect Looking to the Future?
More research is needed on how teenagers think about risky behaviors after seeing them in movies. For example, some teens might find it exciting to see violent characters engage in sex and alcohol. They may want to try it.
Parents should make their own informed decisions on what movies their children watch. The amount of violence and other unhealthy behaviors in popular movies is cause for concern.
The movie ratings system also should be looked at closely. It does not appear to be so effective in protecting youth from exposure to problem content that could negatively affect their health.