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Study says parental control pays

Published July 26, 2004; Category: DARTMOUTH MEDICAL SCHOOL

Children with movie restrictions are less likely to try smoking

Children whose parents prevent them from watching R-rated movies have a much lower risk of taking up smoking. That's the finding of research published in the July 6 issue of the journal Pediatrics.

The study, by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School (DMS), builds on earlier research showing a link between seeing smoking in movies and teen smoking. Now researchers have shown that parents who monitor their children's movie and video-watching habits and prohibit R-rated movies - where smoking is much more common - can profoundly affect the chances their children will try smoking.

Only 3 percent of kids who were never allowed to watch R-rated movies tried smoking, reports lead researcher and pediatrician  James D. Sargent, compared with 14 percent of those who frequently viewed such movies.

"The results are striking. Parents really can make a difference," Sargent said.

He noted that movie restriction has a larger impact on adolescents whose parents do not smoke. These adolescents are 10 times more likely to start smoking if allowed to see R-rated movies.

"Movie images of smoking may be particularly powerful for kids whose parents don't smoke because those kids aren't exposed to the realities of smoking, just to the glamorized images of smoking depicted in the movies. Their perceptions about smoking are more easily influenced by such images." Sargent said.

Of the nearly 2,600 children in the study sample, 400 came from homes where the parents neither smoked nor allowed their children to watch R-rated movies, among whom only 3 went on to try smoking. In contrast, 10 percent of children whose parents did not smoke, but who were allowed to watch R-rated movies went on to smoke.

When asked what parents can do to keep their kids from smoking, Sargent said, "If you are a smoker the most important thing you can do is to quit smoking. Smoking not only harms your health, but it also harms the health of other family members and also increases the chances your child will take up smoking. If you do not smoke, take the movie ratings seriously. Our study shows that some parents maintain R-rated movie restrictions well through junior high school and that this has important health benefits. In addition, parents should be just as serious about PG-13 restrictions for adolescents 12 and under."

Other studies have looked at the effect of general parenting behaviors in adolescent smoking. But the restriction on R-rated movie watching appears to be a new and powerful determinant, Michael Beach, a coauthor on the study, said.

"We know that most smokers start between the ages of 10 and 17, usually because of observation and imitation," Beach said. "We used to think that most of the observation came from the real world, but now know that movies are a common source of exposure to smoking."

In movies the smoking is done by movie stars that teens look up to and emulate, Beach said. "Our study shows that children whose parents limit the types of movies they can see have much lower exposure to movie depictions of smoking and, consequently, much lower risk for smoking themselves."

The study followed 2,596 children from 14 middle schools across New Hampshire and Vermont over a two-year period. A national study looking at the same data is being conducted and will be released next year.

Co-authors of the study in addition to Sargent and Beach are Madeline A. Dalton; Linda Titus Ernstoff; Jennifer J. Gibson; Jennifer J. Tickle; and Todd Heatherton. A professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, Sargent is also a practicing pediatrician in the Children's Hospital at Dartmouth and a member of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC). Beach is a member of the Department of Anesthesiology at DHMC and a professor of anesthesiology at DMS, as well as a member of NCCC. Dalton, Ernstoff and Gibson are members of NCCC. Tickle and Heatherton are members of the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences faculty at Dartmouth.


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Last Updated: 12/17/08