As scenes containing sex and violence become more prevalent in movies targeted to youth, parents may be less likely to shield their children from this content, according to a study in the November 2014 Pediatrics, "Parental Desensitization to Violence and Sex in Movies" (published online Oct. 20). Researchers asked 1,000 parents of pre-teen and teen children to watch a series of movie clips in succession. For each clip, they were asked the minimum age at which they would be comfortable allowing their child to view the movie. The more the parents watched, the more their standards relaxed. Initially they rated scenes with violence appropriate for age 16.9 years and scenes with sex appropriate for 17.2 years (on average). By the end of the study, parents were deeming similar scenes appropriate for ages 13.9 (violence) and 14.0 (sex). The study found that parents who watched movies frequently were more readily desensitized to violence. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates movies to assist parents in selecting content appropriate for their children's ages. The appearance of violent content, particularly, has risen within the PG-13 category. Scenes featuring gun violence in this category have tripled since 1985. Sex scenes have increased in movies with an R rating, and there is evidence to suggest that sex is more prevalent in PG-13 films as well. Parents serve on the MPAA rating board, which acknowledges that its standards have changed over time and attributes this, in part, to changing standards of parents. According to the study authors, the changing standards of parents may actually be a result of the increase in violence in PG-13 movies. This presents challenges for a rating system that is intended to warn about such content, and is compounded by parents' increased willingness to allow their children to view it.
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 62,000 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 www.aap.org.