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Researchers from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Dartmouth Medical School and Dartmouth College have identified a new strategy for parents who don't want their children to smoke or drink: don't let them watch R-rated movies.
A new paper in the January/February 2002 issue of Effective Clinical Practice states that children who are not restricted from watching R-rated movies are three times more likely to smoke or drink alcohol compared to those who are never allowed to watch them.
"Most parents underestimate the impact movies have on their children. This study clearly shows that adolescents are much more likely to smoke or drink if their parents let them watch R-rated movies," said Madeline Dalton, the lead author on this paper and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School. Dalton said that restricting R movies is associated with lower rates of adolescent alcohol and tobacco use, regardless of how strict parents are in other ways.
The study found that while one third of the children with unrestricted viewing privileges had tried smoking, only two percent of those who were never allowed to watch R movies had tried it. The figures are similar for trying alcohol. Forty-six percent of the kids with no movie restrictions had tried alcohol, while four percent of those with complete restrictions had tried it.
As videos, DVDs and cable and satellite television become more and more accessible, it's much easier for children to watch R-rated movies. The researchers surveyed about 4,500 students in grades five through eight in New Hampshire and Vermont. Although 90 percent of the students surveyed were younger than 14 years old, only 16 percent said they were never allowed to watch R-rated movies.
The movie rating system, in place since 1968, provides parents with information to help determine whether their children should see a movie. The rating system is sponsored by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners. An R rating indicates that the film is restricted for people under the age of 17. According to www.filmratings.com , "an R may be assigned due to, among other things, a film's use of language, theme, violence, sex or its portrayal of drug use."
"Our children are influenced by their friends, their parents and the media," said Mike Beach, Associate Professor of Family and Community Medicine at Dartmouth Medical School. "Even parents who give their child a clear message that smoking is not acceptable run the risk of having that message undermined if they allow their child to see R-rated movies with a lot of smoking."
This group, which includes researchers from Dartmouth's Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, will continue their adolescent smoking studies with an additional $3.6 million grant from the National Cancer Institute. The award will fund research to further clarify the connection between exposure to movies and teenage smoking and to understand parents' role in restricting this exposure.
Dalton and Beach are part of a prolific research group at Dartmouth dedicated to understanding adolescent smoking and drinking. The team has published numerous studies, each connecting mass media to these risky behaviors in different ways. In January 2001, this research team reported that actor endorsement of cigarette brands in movies was increasing. In March 2001, the team released findings that adolescents whose favorite movie stars smoke on-screen are more likely to be smokers themselves. In December 2001, they published a paper stating that children are less likely to smoke if their parents disapprove. In another article published in December 2002, the researchers revealed that as adolescents see more smoking in movies, it's more likely to entice them to try smoking.
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