The Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) of the Motion Picture Association of America is charged with assigning ratings to films so that parents can decide what is appropriate for their children. These ratings aren’t rules governing what a child is allowed to see, but merely “guidelines meant to reflect the current values of the majority of American parents.”
While some parents take these guidelines to heart, others allow their children to see films that were clearly intended for an older audience. But according to a new study, parents who do that might be doing more than fast-tracking their kid’s exposure to sex and violence. They might also be increasing the likelihood that their child will begin experimenting with alcohol at a young age.
The study, conducted by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School over a period of nearly two years, involved questionnaires and phone surveys of about 2,400 children ages 10 to 14. The results revealed that of the kids whose parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies “all the time,” almost 25% had sneaked an alcoholic drink without their parent’s knowledge. Of those who weren’t allowed to watch R-rated movies at all, that number dropped to just 3%.
One might assume that parents who don’t restrict what movies their kids can see might also be slacking off in other ways as well. Perhaps. But the researchers say they controlled for the impact of different parenting styles and still found that “the movie effect is over-and-above that effect.”
So, what is it about R-rated movies that make kids want to drink? According to Dr. Susanne E. Tanski, lead author of the study, it’s a simple matter of exposure.
“Behavior is complicated and there are lots of things that contribute to why you do something. But seeing things onscreen makes behaviors more normal.”
Of course, while movies aren’t the only culprit when it comes to exposing kids to undesirable behavior, it is one area in which parents of young children have control. But judging by the number of kids in my third grader’s class who have seen the PG-13 film Avatar, I’d say many parents don’t exercise that control. What about you? Do you limit your kids to films intended for their age group? Or do you go with the flow and let them watch what all their friends are watching?
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