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We’ve suspected for a long time that media violence rubs off on our kids. In the 1960s, a famous study using an inflatable, weighted punching doll (sometimes called a “Bobo doll”) demonstrated that children who watched a video of an adult hitting the doll were much more likely to hit the doll than were children who saw a film in which the adult didn’t hit the doll at all.

While the straight line we expect between media violence and children’s behavior is still a fuzzy one – many studies fail to find a direct link – we still get anxious when our children consume a media diet of hitting, shooting, stabbing, and killing. Surely such fare will encourage if not actually lead to more bad behavior in our kids.

So, careful parents that we are, we monitor the movies our children watch. We never let them watch R-rated films, sticking as much as we can to G-rated movies for the younger set and PG-13 flicks for the preteen kids. How is this working out? A new study indicates the answer is, “Not so well.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a study in which trained individuals coded violence in 5-minute segments of movies from 1950 and the presence of guns in movies since 1985, the first year PG-13 was in use as a movie rating. They found that violence has more than doubled since 1950. No surprise there. More alarmingly, they found that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985. When the PG-13 rating was introduced, the level of gun violence in these films was about the same as in G movies of the same era. Now, however, the level of gun violence in PG-13 movies matches or is more than the violence in R-rated films.

In fact, the level of violence in R-rated films has not increased over the years.. only in PG-13 movies can we see this effect. As the researchers note, the Terminator and Die Hard movies were rated R in their original versions but their sequels came out with a PG-13 rating. Certainly filmmakers and distributors want these movies to attract the widest possible audience and work hard to earn an R rating. But it seems that now R only indicates sexual content. Violence, apparently, is for everyone!

In addition, theaters do not check ages of children entering PG-13 movies, so children much younger than 13 may see these films. Children of all ages may watch these movies at home, on television or DVD.

So what should parents do?

Pick films carefully. It’s not necessary to limit your child’s screenings to Mary Poppins or a Disney animated film. You know your older child wants more mature storylines. But she doesn’t need violence.

Now that you know that PG-13 isn’t a safe signifier, you can take more care to protect your child.



© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Dr. Anderson will be in Atlanta, GA on December 10 and 11, speaking at the National Head Start Association’s Parent Conference. Email her at [email protected] for details or to set up a presentation to your group in the Atlanta area on one of those dates.