Parents have been running into me at the movies and often ask me how much their children might be influenced by the movie that is about to be shown. Well, let me see if I can preview some useful information on this topic.

A recent study has revealed that movies often show unsafe high-risk behaviors, but not the consequence of those behaviors.  For example, in looking at movies over the past 5 years or so, only 56% of passengers in cars were belted, only one-third of pedestrians used crosswalks, and only one- quarter of bicyclists wore helmets – clearly not setting the examples we would hope to see.

In addition, another recent study showed that the average science fiction film contains more than 50 acts of violence , horror films, almost 40 and action films almost 30, and 40% of the time it is the good guy who is causing the violence.  Yet it is only 1 in 8 times that you actually see the long-term suffering caused by the violence.  In addition, there are 6.3 scenes of tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug use per hour in a movie that your kids may opt to go see.

What can you do about this?  The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that parents need to actively monitor what their children are watching at the movies.  If possible, watch a film before your child sees it. A great idea is to rent the movie rather than go out and see it, since DVDs allow you to skip over scenes that may be scary or violent. You can also visit web sites that tell you just what scenes may not set good examples in terms of safety, language or risk-taking behaviors.  If you are aware of these scenes before your children go to see the film, you can discuss it either before or after they have watched it.

In addition, work with parents of your child’s friends to limit the exposure your child is getting to violent films because your child might be affected more? by the movies “everyone is watching.”

Ask your children to report back the safety violations they see in the film, and to determine if they are good “safety detectives.”  Talk about what they have seen and help them process the behaviors that you don’t support so you can help your child shape the good decisions they need to make as they get older and more independent. Doing so may prevent your children from trying to copy the unsafe or risk-taking behaviors they are exposed to in the films they are seeing.

Hopefully tips like this will allow you to screen out any concerns you have when it comes to your child being overexposed to violence and risk-taking behaviors at the movies.

Lewis First, M.D., is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM or visit the First with Kids video archives.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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