Parents can become less sensitive to violence and sex in movies after watching only a few scenes with disturbing content, according to a study published in Pediatrics that was conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.
Parents viewed three brief pairs of movie scenes featuring either violent or sexual content. After seeing the first movie clip, the parents thought the minimum age on average to see a movie with that content should be 16.9 years old for violence or 17.2 years old for sex. After watching the sixth and final scene, the parents were more willing to let younger teens see the movies, 13.9 years for violence and 14 years for sex – lowering the minimum age by three years or more.
“We know these scenes are somewhat disturbing to parents,” said Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) and the study’s lead author. “When they first see them, they say you shouldn’t let someone younger than 17 see them – which is comparable to an R rating. But they get more and more accepting of that content as they’re watching it.”
The study “Parental Desensitization to Violence and Sex in Movies,” will be published in the November 2014 issue of Pediatrics. It was made available online on Oct. 20. The findings were based on an online study of 1,000 parents who have children from ages 6 to 17. The movie scenes came from popular films targeted at youth (PG-13), rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) or unrated in DVD versions.
The study comes as scenes of sex and violence become more prevalent in movies aimed at youth. A 2013 study in Pediatrics from APPC researchers showed that the amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies tripled in the most popular movies since 1985. That study also found that the amount of gun violence in popular PG-13 movies in 2012 actually exceeded that in popular R-rated movies. Another APPC study in Pediatrics in 2013 found that movie violence was associated with sex and alcohol use as often in PG-13 as R-rated movies.
The possible effect on movie raters
The authors noted that people who rate movies for the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), who are themselves parents, could be subject to the same desensitization “and thus more likely to be lenient when it comes to evaluating the appropriateness of such content for children.” The study said this effect could help to explain the “ratings creep” that has allowed more violence into films aimed at youth.
Parents in the study viewed scenes from six of these eight movies: “8 Mile” (2002, rated R); “Casino Royale” (2006, PG-13); “Collateral” (2004, R); “Taken 2” (2012, PG-13); “Die Hard” (1988, R); “Live Free or Die Hard” (2007, unrated DVD); “The Terminator” (1984, R); and “Terminator Salvation” (2009, PG-13). The movie clips can be seen here.
Related news coverage:
- It’s mums and dads who are failing to keep kids from watching violent and sexual material (The Daily Telegraph (Australia), Oct. 24, 2014)
- Why more parents let kids watch movie violence and sex (BabyCenter blog, Oct. 23, 2014)
- Are Parents Getting Too Used to Sex and Violence in the Media? (Boston.com, Oct. 22, 2014)
- Parents ‘too desensitised to judge appropriate films for children’ (The Guardian, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Study: Parents care less about violence and sex in films after seeing it repeatedly (The Daily Pennsylvanian, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Repeated viewing of violence and sex ‘desensitises parents’ (The Indian Express, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Parents Desensitized to Violent and Sexual Movies (Headlines & Global News, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Penn Researchers Find Parents Can Be Desensitized To Violence, Sex In Movies (CBS Philly, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Parents desensitized to violence, sex in movies lax about what kids see onscreen (Examiner.com, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Viewing movies or shows with explicit scenes ‘desensitises’ parents (The Health Site (India), Oct. 21, 2014)
- Why the MPAA Sucks at its Job, according to Science (CinemaBlend.com, Oct. 21, 2014)
- Penting! Orang Tua Harus Awasi Tontonan Anak (Inilah.com (Indonesia), Oct. 21, 2014)
- Study Says Parents’ Media Exposure Trickles Down To Children (“All Things Considered” (audio), NPR, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Why are so many graphically violent movies rated PG-13: Rating the raters (“The Frame” (audio), KPCC Southern California Public Radio, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Study Says Parents Who Watch Sex and Violence Are Desensitized Too (The Wrap, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Studie: Je mehr Filme mit Gewalt- und Sexszenen Eltern schauen, desto früher lassen sie diese auch Kinder schauen (Filmstarts.de (Germany), Oct. 20, 2014)
- Repeated viewing of violence and sex ‘desensitises’ parents (First Post (India), Oct. 20, 2014)
- ‘Repeated exposure’ to movie sex, violence can desensitize parents: study (CBC News, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Watching movie sex and violence may desensitize parents: study (Reuters, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Parents Loosen Up Rules for Viewing (The New York Times, Oct. 20, 2014)
- The violent ‘Taken’ movies are rated PG-13. Do ratings make sense anymore? (The Washington Post, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Parents desensitized with increasing exposure to movie violence/sex (2 Minute Medicine, Oct. 20, 2014)
- How much film violence for kids? Parents losing their compass, study says. (The Christian Science Monitor, Oct. 20, 2014)
- ‘Desensitized’ Parents Let Kids Watch More Movie Violence, Sex (HealthDay, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Parents, Frequent Moviegoers Are Desensitized to Violence, Sex In Film; Likely So Is MPAA Ratings Board: Study (Deadline Hollywood, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Study: The more parents view sex and violence in film, the less they care (Entertainment Weekly, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Why Parents Let Kids Watch More Movies With Sex and Violence (Time.com, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Parents Desensitized to Sex and Violence in Movies, Study Finds (Variety, Oct. 20, 2014)
- Study: Parents and MPAA Raters Can Be Desensitized to Sex and Violence in Film (The Hollywood Reporter, Oct. 20, 2014)