Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Parental Desensitization to Sex and Violence in the Movies

By: Lewis First, MD, MS; Editor-in-Chief 

Photo by Brandon Kowitz via Flickr
Ever go to a movie loaded with violence, profanity, and sexuality and express surprise when you find out it’s a PG-13 and not an R-rated film? Do you think that you are sure PG-13 movies of the past never had as much sex and violence as they do now?

If so, you are not alone, but you may be victim of a desensitization phenomenon affecting parents who allow their children to attend PG-13 movies loaded with overly-graphic scenes of sex and violence that one used to attribute only to R-ratings.

Romer et al. (doi:10.1542/peds.2014-1167) set out to assess the desensitization of parents to repeat exposures to violence and sex in movies by inviting 1,000 parents of preteens and teens to view short scenes of violent or sexual content from popular movies from PG-13 or R-rated films. Afterwards, they asked the parents to determine the minimum age that a child might view that film. The more clips seen, the lower the age the parents chose for their children to view the same clips–consistent with parents becoming desensitized to sex and violence on screen.

Sadly, it may not be just parents but also the raters of films who are becoming desensitized and allowing younger children to attend more violent and more sexual films than ever before. This is an important study to read about and then share with your patients.

If you want some perspective on what this study suggests, consider the commentary by Dr. Jeanne Van Cleave (doi:10.1542/peds.2014-2803) that accompanies this study.

By the way, did you know there are now websites that tell parents just how much sex and violence and profanity appear in films? If not, you should know about such sites so you can direct parents of pre-teen and teenage patients to them so they are more aware of what their younger children might be exposed to when they go to the movies. Your ticket to this provocative early-released study from our journal awaits. So make some popcorn, click the link, and learn more.

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