Parental Restriction AdvisedNov. 20, 2002
In a twist on the chicken-and-egg dilemma of which comes first, a study released last year links the viewing of R-rated movies to an increased likelihood that teenagers will drink alcohol and smoke.
The chicken: the lack of restrictions or supervision from parents allowing their underage teenagers to see R-rated movies.
The egg: the smoking and drinking.
The study, conducted by researchers at Dartmouth College, questioned about 4,500 fifth- through eighth-grade
students in New Hampshire and Vermont. The study reports:
Although 90 percent were younger than 14 years of age, only 16 percent were restricted completely from viewing R-rated movies.
18 percent had tried cigarettes. Of those, 35 percent who had smoked had no restrictions on viewing R-rated movies, 12 percent had partial restrictions from such movies and 2 percent had complete restrictions.
23 percent had tried alcohol. Of those, 46 percent came from the no-restrictions group, 16 percent from those with partial restrictions and 4 percent from those with complete restrictions.
The Dartmouth researchers say their study controls for several factors, including maternal supervision and responsiveness as well as peer and family smoking histories. It is part of ongoing research that will continue to explore the connection of the media's impact on teen behavior and the role of parents in limiting such exposure.
Dr. Jim Diaz-Granados, Baylor associate professor of psychology, neuroscience and biomedical studies and director of the PhD program in neuroscience, takes a different view. He says the teenagers' behavior more likely is a result of their parents not taking time to restrict activities in general. He wonders, too, about the researchers' ability to measure parental attentiveness. "They're saying they are controlling for that and still getting the effect, but it's a complex factor that is difficult to quantify or measure accurately by a single survey item," he says.
The researchers also say they controlled for the fact that 61 percent of the friends of the no-restrictions group smoke, while only 10 percent of the friends of the complete-restriction group smoke.
"If the parents are involved enough to completely restrict R-rated movies, they're probably involved in who their childrens' peers are," Dr. Diaz-Granados says. "I would think the instances are few of children whose parents completely restrict R-rated movies but allow them to hang out with 14-year-olds who smoke."
Dr. Diaz-Granados is in the middle of a four-year study, using laboratory specimens, to research the long-term effects of drinking on the brain development of underage youth. He is finding a correlation between early onset drinking and an affinity for alcohol in later years.
"In early adolescents -- fifth-, sixth- and seventh-graders -- you have a brain that's still developing," he says. "It would be nice to figure out whether the alcohol is somehow changing the way the normal brain develops."
Parents have received some guidance on the content of movies since 1968 when the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) began sponsoring the movie rating system. Youth under the age of 17 are restricted from viewing R-rated films, which are rated for language, theme, violence, sex or portrayal of drug use. NATO since has added a photo identification requirement for youth seeking admission to an R-rated movie.
Regardless of the specifics of the Dartmouth study, Dr. Diaz-Granados says the warning is a good one. "What I do think is important is that this is something that may be promoting drinking and smoking in underage children, which, combined with what we're finding in our research, may actually cause some real health and developmental effects."
McMullan, BA '88, received her degree in journalism and political science. A former editor of the Lariat, she has written for Texas Monthly, Southern Living, The Dallas Morning News and is a contributing editor for D Magazine.
For more information on the Dartmouth study, visit www.dartmouth.edu/~news