As parents, we spend a lot of time worrying ourselves about the sexual content in movies that we consider for our children, but a new study in the journal Pediatrics reveals that our concern may be misplaced: the level of gun violence shown in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985 and now exceeds the level found in R-rated movies.
In a country where gun violence has been reaching epidemic levels—from random mass murders to the senseless killings subsuming many urban neighborhoods—we all should be extremely alarmed that our children are absorbing epic levels of violence presented to them in the form of entertainment. Along with the rampant violence featured in video games, our little ones are being trained to develop a cheapened view of human life.
As parents, I think we have to be hyper conscious of the material we are presenting to our kids, because they’re not necessarily going to announce to us that the material is inappropriate. While my 11-year-old daughter is sensitive to violence and killing and is repelled by such material in films, my son reveled in it when he was her age. So the parental inclination is to let him watch the stuff way more than he should.
But we can’t give in to the inclination.
Is there any wonder that the explosion in violent films shown to young people coincides with the huge increase in mass shootings committed by angry and disillusioned young men?
The researchers studied gun violence in films since 1984, when the PG-13 rating was introduced. PG-13 is short for “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.”
The study found that gun violence declined in G- or PG-rated films; it remained flat in R-rated films; and increased dramatically in PG-13 films. Since 2009, the level of gun violence in PG-13 films has been as high as or higher than in R-rated films and it has exceeded the level of R films since 2012.
It almost feels like a mass conspiracy to destroy our children is afoot, since the PG 13 films are specifically geared toward children—specifically tweens and young teens who are extremely impressionable and less able to separate reality from make-believe.
There have been “hundreds of studies showing that exposure to media violence … increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behavior,” and decreases feelings of empathy and compassion, said Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at The Ohio State University and lead author of the study.
He said that studies have revealed that just “the near presence of a weapon can make people more aggressive.”
Pediatrician James Sargent of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth said the research demonstrates that the MPAA rating system is failing in its mission to warn parents and protect children.
If we care at all about our children and about the fate of our society, we need to take a stand against the violence Hollywood is peddling to us. The easiest way to take a stand? Let our dollars do the talking.
Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.