In TV and movies smoking is often portrayed and even glamorized.
Kids whose parents let them watch R-rated movies may be up to three times more likely to start smoking compared to their more restricted peers, according to a new study.
The Dutch and U.S. researchers suggest that parents’ leniency regarding movies could trigger smoking both by exposing kids to actors showcasing the habit and by simply opening the door to more thrill-seeking risky behaviors.
“By being strict regarding R-rated movies, parents may play a part in preventing their children from developing higher levels of sensation-seeking and the associated risk for smoking,” lead researcher Rebecca N. H. de Leeuw of the Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, told Reuters Health in an e-mail.
Kids in the U.S. spend an average of six and a half hours a day using media, with the majority of that time spent watching TV and movies in which smoking is often portrayed and even glamorized.
These positive depictions of smoking may be particularly common in R-rated movies, a category of films for which kids under the age of 17 are technically required to be accompanied by an adult.
De Leeuw and her colleagues studied about 6,500 kids between the ages of 10 and 14 who had been randomly selected from the U.S. population in the mid-1990s and followed for two years. On three different occasions, the kids were asked about their smoking behaviors, thrill-seeking tendencies and parents’ leniency regarding movies.
At the start of the study, only about one in three kids reported being completely restricted from watching R-rated movies by their parents. That proportion dropped to 12 percent after the two years.
When the researchers looked at the corresponding rates of smoking, they found that full restrictions on R-rated movies cut the chances a kid would start smoking by two- to threefold.
“Through their restrictions, parents limit their children’s exposure to movie smoking, which makes them subsequently less susceptible to becoming a smoker,” de Leeuw said.
Given the small percentage of parents that kept their children from watching R-rated movies, it is likely that few realize the impact movies may have on their children, suggest the researchers in the journal Pediatrics.
“Hence, creating awareness among parents about the role of smoking portrayals in movies on smoking in youth is highly warranted,” added de Leeuw.
But it wasn’t only this direct protection from seeing smoking in movies that appeared to deter kids from starting smoking themselves.
Parents may also have an indirect effect by preventing their children from becoming drawn toward new and intense sensations or experiences in general, which could include lighting up their first cigarette, noted de Leeuw.
The researchers caution that there’s not yet enough evidence to be sure that being restricted from watching R-rated movies can keep a kid from becoming a smoker. More rigorous research is needed to test the effects of parenting strategies.
For now, de Leeuw recommends that parents always go with their children to the video store, find out a movie’s rating before allowing their children to watch it and check what movies their children might be watching at friends’ houses.
She also suggested that parents need support in limiting their children’s access to R-rated movies. Theaters and video stores, for example, could better enforce policies that prevent children under 17 years old from viewing or renting movies without an accompanying parent.
“This may prevent sensation-seeking children from watching R-rated movies without their parents’ knowledge,” she said.