G-rated movies may not be harmless

If you think you’re protecting your child from viewing unsafe behaviors by sticking with G-rated movies, you might need to reconsider. Despite improvements, the entertainment industry continues to portray high-risk behaviors in many children’s movies.

A recent study concludes that G- and PG-rated movies from 2003-2007 depicted unsafe behaviors in half the scenes, with the consequences of these behaviors rarely shown.

One example in the study is the movie “Elf.” The main character, played by Will Ferrell, crosses the street without looking both ways and is hit by a taxi. Instead of being rushed to the hospital, he pops up without injury.

On a positive note, the study’s authors did find that injury-prevention practices in children’s movies improved: 75 percent of boaters wore personal flotation devices, 56 percent of vehicle passengers wore seatbelts, 35 percent of pedestrians used crosswalks and 25 percent of bicyclists wore helmets.

However, the number of unsafe behaviors was troubling, the experts say.

“Mass media has a profound impact on everyone in the United States but especially children,” says lead author Jon Eric Tongren. “By the age of 18, children have spent (a combined total of) two years watching mass media.”

Television viewing is a major activity for both children and adolescents. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, American children between ages 8 and 18 spend an average of six hours, 21 minutes daily using entertainment media, while children between birth and age 6 spend almost two hours.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children under 2 not watch any television and that children over 2 be limited to one to two hours of educational screen media a day.

“Realize that kids are very impressionable by movies,” says Tongren, who believes parents should highlight and explain inappropriate safety measures. “Take an active role in movie viewing.”

Tongren says studies show following recommendations for safety has a positive effect. “Unintentional injuries are the leading cause of death among children. Any way to reduce deaths is paramount.”

Elizabeth Espindola

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