Kids Who Watch R Movies at Risk for Smoking

Study Shows Impact of R-Rated Movies on Sensation Seeking by Youths

Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD on December 06, 2010
From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 6, 2010 -- Children whose parents restrict viewing of R-rated movies are less likely to start smoking cigarettes and less likely to be inclined toward sensation seeking, a new study shows.

The researchers say their findings, from a study of 6,522 youths aged 10-14, suggest that parents can guide risky behaviors to a significant degree by strictly limiting the R-rated movies they allow their children to watch.

The participants in the study were monitored for two years to determine linkages between R-rated movies, smoking onset, and other sensation-seeking tendencies.

The researchers describe sensation seeking as “the tendency to seek novel, complex, and intense sensations and experiences and the willingness to take risks for such experiences.”

The study shows that:

  • 32% of the adolescents said they were not allowed to watch R-rated movies.
  • A relationship was found between greater risk for smoking onset and the degree of permissiveness of parents about allowing youths to view R-rated movies.
  • Parents with strict restrictions on R-rated movie viewing decreased the risk of smoking by their youngsters and also decreased their sensation-seeking tendencies.
  • Many parents became less strict over time about what their children could watch.

Call for ‘Active’ Parenting

The researchers say their findings “support a clarion call for parents to adopt active parenting regarding media during early adolescence.” But they also say few parents seem aware of the impact that risky behaviors depicted in movies may have on their children. Some popular movies expose youths to risk behaviors like smoking, which is often glamorized, attracting sensation-seekers to take up the habit, according to the researchers.

“Many parents relax their restrictions regarding R-rated movies during early adolescence, but our results suggest that continued restriction is an effective means of reducing adolescents’ risk for smoking onset,” the researchers write. “Pediatricians need to reinforce strict parenting regarding media and its maintenance throughout adolescence.”

The researchers also say children who are sensation seekers may influence their parents to indulge them regarding their movie viewing. Some adolescents may insist on watching R-rated movies or watch them without permission. Parental monitoring may be particularly important in sensation-seeking children because they may be less likely to be able to resist the temptation of watching R-rated movies, the researchers write.

The study, published online, will appear in the January 2011 print edition of Pediatrics.