The Movies Made Me Do It
THURSDAY, Feb. 14 (HealthScoutNews) -- Kids who watch R-rated movies are much more likely to try smoking and drinking.
That's the conclusion of a study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers that appears in the current issue of Effective Clinical Practice.
"Children who are not restricted from watching R-rated movies are three times more likely to smoke or drink than those who never watch them," says one of the study's authors, Dr. Michael Beach, an associate professor of community and family medicine at Dartmouth Medical School.
"Parents can talk to children about the evils of smoking and give them that message at home, but it's offset by the smoking they see in the movies," Beach says. "Smoking in the movies is usually shown in a glamorous or sexual context that may have a powerful influence."
The researchers surveyed 4,544 students from fifth through eighth grade. The children were from 15 schools in Vermont and New Hampshire. All of the schools had more than 150 students enrolled.
The survey included questions about parental behavior, movie restrictions and whether the kids had sampled alcohol or cigarettes. Each survey also contained a random list of movies without rating information, and the students were asked to check off the ones they'd seen.
Overall, 18 percent of the kids had tried smoking and 23 percent had tried alcohol, the researchers found. Ninety percent of the children who participated in the study were under the age of 14, yet only 16 percent of them were completely restricted from seeing R-rated movies.
Kids that age shouldn't be seeing R-rated movies, unless accompanied by a parent or guardian, according to the rating system used by the Motion Picture Association of America. An "R" rating is given to movies that contain adult content, such as violence, sex or substance abuse.
The study found that 35 percent of the kids who had no restrictions on the type of movies they were allowed to watch had tried smoking, while only 12 percent of kids who reported having some restrictions on their film choices had smoked. Only 2 percent of the children who were not allowed to watch R-rated movies at all had tried to smoke.
The numbers were similar for alcohol use. Forty-six percent of youngsters with no restrictions had tried alcohol; 16 percent of those with partial restrictions had given liquor a try, while only 4 percent of the kids with complete restrictions had done so.
"Kids behave differently when they know they're being watched," says Nell Minow, author of The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies. "What is important here is that kids need to know that someone cares enough to impose limits, not just on television and movies, but on anything that is not good for them."
Beach says the researchers couldn't study whether parents were with the children when they viewed R-rated movies. However, the researchers did try to control the data for as many factors as they could, including parental smoking and drinking habits, the children's school performance, and rebelliousness.
Even complete parental restrictions didn't stop all the kids from seeing R-rated movies, Beach acknowledges. With movie videos and cable TV present in many homes, it's difficult to control what children see in their own homes or in their friends' homes.
The researchers note the study had several limitations. First, since they interviewed kids from only New Hampshire and Vermont, results around the country could vary. In addition, the researchers couldn't conclude whether restricting R-rated movies alone was responsible for reduced experimentation with smoking and alcohol, or if there were other parental behaviors that affected these decisions.
A spokesperson from the Motion Picture Association of America would not comment on the study.
What To Do
Watch what your kids are watching.
"It is a parent's number one job to let them know that we are paying attention all the time to what they're doing and to all the dangers out in the world," says Minow.
To learn more about what each movie rating means, go to filmratings.com. For tips on helping your child become a discriminating media viewer, read this excerpt from The Movie Mom's Guide to Family Movies.