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TV Ratings on Sex, Violence and Substance Abuse Offer Little Help to Parents

​​​Research shows there is a relationship between young people seeing sexual content on television and the risk of teen pregnancy, seeing violence and teen aggression, and seeing depictions of smoking and drinking and youth substance use, which is why the US Congress asked the entertainment industry to develop a TV Parental Guidelines rating system over 20 years ago. However, a study conducted by researchers at the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth and published in the September 2016 Pediatrics (published online Aug. 22), “Industry Television Ratings for Violence, Sex and Substance Use,” shows these industry ratings were ineffective in warning parents about content that might not be appropriate for children to view. Researchers compared 323 episodes of 17 television shows for sex, violence, smoking and drinking, and found that only sex and gore were demonstrably more prevalent in mature rated shows. All other risk behaviors were pervasive across most rating categories, especially interpersonal violence (occurring in 70 percent of episodes) and alcohol use (in 58 percent of shows), but also smoking (31 percent). Study authors concluded that in this sample of shows, the ratings system did little to help parents discriminate and limit exposure to these behaviors. More research is needed across more television shows to monitor and improve the TV Parental Guidelines.


The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 66,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety and well-being of infants, children, adolescents and young adults. For more information, visit

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