Children who watch R-rated films are more likely to start drinking alcohol at an early age, according to researchers at Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, N.H.

Researchers at the Department of Pediatrics and Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School questioned almost 3,600 middle-school students in 15 New England schools, and followed up with them 13 to 26 months later. During that time, only 3 percent of children who said their parents never allowed them to watch R-rated films also said they had started drinking alcohol. Comparatively, 13 percent of those who had responded that their parents sometimes allowed them to watch R-rated films said they had started drinking, as well as 25 percent of those who said their parents always let them watch R-rated films.

"The research to date suggests that keeping kids from R-rated movies can help keep them from drinking, smoking and doing a lot of other things that parents don’t want them to do," Dr. James D. Sargent, a pediatrics professor at Dartmouth Medical and an author of the study, told Bloomberg Businessweek.

The findings were published in the May issue of the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The article’s introduction stated prior research has linked various forms of entertainment, including R-rated, or "restricted", films to personality and behavioral changes in youth, including aggression, sexual behavior and tobacco use.

"We think seeing the adult content actually changes their personality." Sargent said. The study’s introduction also discusses the consequences of those personality changes: those who start using alcohol earlier are five times more likely to develop adult alcoholism, with a subsequent increase in alcohol-related injury and death.

Sargent told Bloomberg depictions of alcohol consumption occur in about 90 percent of R-rated films, which might be one reason adolescents who watch R-rated films are more drawn to drinking. The Motion Picture Association of America ratings board issues film ratings for all films distributed in the US, bans children under the age of 17 watching an R-rated film in theaters without supervision. But in the end it is parental judgment that dictates what a child will or will not be able to watch.

"We think this is a very important aspect of parenting, and one that is often overlooked," Sargent said.

About The Author

Emma Johnson is a Blast Magazine critic whose work has appeared in The Boston Globe

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