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R-Rated Movies Linked to Middle-School Boozing

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Are you against R-rated movies for your kiddies? Perhaps you should be.

Dr. Wendy Walsh: Recently, my almost-12-year-old has been begging to see the movie "Shutter Island." She loves suspense and already seems to be growing out of the vampire thrillers that have so many girls her age addicted. I have a problem with this, because "Shutter Island" has an "R" rating. But she's trying the "all my friends have seen it" argument -- the one I perfected myself in the late 1970s. So far, I haven't budged.

Most parents agree that the violence and sexual content in R-rated movies is inappropriate for impressionable young children who are developing their sense of self. Less clear to many parents is where we should draw the line with middle-schoolers, whose exposure to all kinds of media is certainly more advanced than that of their parents' generation. Now a new study will help confused parents toe the line. It found that R-rated movies increase the likelihood of underage children using alcohol.

The study, funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse, followed more than 6,000 adolescents (aged 10 to 14) over a two-year period. The children were asked to choose movies they had seen from a list that included movies rated "G," "PG-13" and "R." On a separate occasion, they were asked if they'd ever tried alcohol without their parents knowing. The study found that watching R-rated movies affected the level of sensation-seeking (the desire for risky behavior) among adolescents. "It showed that R-rated movies not only contain scenes of alcohol use that prompt adolescents to drink, they also jack up the sensation-seeking tendency, which makes adolescents more prone to engage in all sorts of risky behaviors," said the author of the study.

Perhaps the most fascinating finding was that kids who are prone to try risky behaviors anyway weren't affected a whole lot by exposure to R-rated movies. But kids who are "low sensation-seekers" (less likely to try risky behaviors) were greatly affected by the movie-watching. In fact, they behaved exactly like their daredevil counterparts after seeing R-rated movies! Clearly, those ratings are there for a reason. "Shutter Island" has now been officially struck off my list. No way. No how.


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