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April 26th, 2010
12:15 AM ET

Watching R-rated movies, early alcohol use linked

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

It's a scary headline for parents of middle – schoolers. A new study in the Journal on Studies of Alcohol and Drugs found among middle -school-aged kids who were allowed to watch restricted R-rated movies whenever they wanted, almost a quarter started drinking alcohol early. Only 3 percent of middle – schoolers who were never allowed to watch R-rated movies engaged in early onset drinking. The researchers were looking at whether there was an association between parental restriction of R-rated movies and alcohol use early in life.

"Behavior is complicated and there are lots of things that contribute to why you do something," explains Dr. Susanne E. Tanski, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and lead author of the study. "But seeing things onscreen makes behaviors more normal."

The study used data from nearly 2,400 middle – school students. At baseline, none of the participants reported previous alcohol use. Researchers followed up with the teens between 13-26 months later, asking whether they had alcohol without parental consent and how often their parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies.

The study did not measure how often the teens were drinking, only whether they were. It also did not ask whether the teens developed any problem behaviors related to alcohol use.

A similar association has been well documented with tobacco use but not all experts agree on how great the media's role is in the development of these behaviors.

"The longer you can wait to have your children exposed to illicit drugs and alcohol, the less of a chance they're going to have significant problems later," says Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an associate professor of both Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Florida.

"But when you look at any sporting event you're going to see a predominance of beer commercials, right? Are you going to make the same argument that letting middle – school kids watch sports makes them more likely to drink too?"

"No one is suggesting that R-rated movies alone are the cause of early onset drinking but it's certainly a factor," says Jim Steyer, CEO, Common Sense Media.

"Good news is that parents can really learn from this and set clear rules about what media their kid consume."

Tanski recommends kids consume two hours or less of entertainment media a day. That includes all television, all movies, and online gaming.

"As a mom of two young boys, I recognize how much of a challenge it is," says Tanski.

"But we should know what our kids are consuming in respect to media like we know who their friends are and where they're hanging out."


soundoff (37 Responses)
  1. amarantha

    Do you think it's possible that the children start drinking because their parents aren't home, or don't enforce strict rules and guidelines. It seems likely those would be the children who watch R movies as well. The evidence presented is false, because I could switch the conclusion and it would still be true. Children who drink watch more R movies.

    This study essentially proves nothing. It's not the R movie at all. It's the parents who haven't set guidelines.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Amy

    This study is meanlingless unless they can sucessfully isolate R-rated movies as the only allowance these parents made that led to early drinking. Otherwise, they have no business stating it is a "factor."

    There are plenty of parents that allow their teens to stay out later or be home alone more or even facilitate "controlled underage drinking" at their own homes. Chances are these parents also allow them to watch whatever movies they want to.

    I don't mean to say parents should allow young teens to watch R-rated movies, just to point out the flaw in the study. Don't waste your time proving a connection if you can't isolate R-rated movies as the actual stimulus.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Stan

    Whats next?? eating sliced bread linked to good eye vision??

    This is what happens when science is hijacked by capitalistic-imperialist mega-corporations, important scientific researches are geared towards profit making while the unlucky scientists who are not able to get jobs within these astablishments are left with little funds for ridiculous researches like these.

    Thousands of brilliant scientists from around are busy working on an ambiguous over $10 billlion project that involves smashing protons together (CERN) to find out what MIGHT HAVE happened after the "big bang" with an assumption there really was a BIG BANG to begin with. and which provides zero benefits to human kind (certainly not in 300 years to come – if we still exist by then). I wish we could go back to the days of Isaac Newton when corporations had little say in science.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:25 | Report abuse | Reply
    • cjbvt

      not quite that drastic Stan: Science only provides a mathematical link – the people must determine if it make sense (chicken or egg). You will see this alot in the research – you have to keep an open mind to the conclusion.

      November 9, 2011 at 20:16 | Report abuse |
  4. Matt

    Sounds like correlation, but not causation.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Mike

    Here's a thought: perhaps the connection between the two is the parents, not any false relation between what movies show and what kids do. If parents are willing to let their kids watch R-rated films whenever they want, then the parents are more than likely not too involved in other aspects of their kids' lives, including making sure the liquor cabinet is locked up. And by the way, teens have been drinking illegally ever since age limits have been prescribed.

    "'No one is suggesting that R-rated movies alone are the cause of early onset drinking but it's certainly a factor,' says Jim Steyer, CEO, Common Sense Media." – give me a break. The name of the organization alone shows that Steyer has a VESTED interest in suggesting that R-rated movies have a connection to early drinking.

    It's parenting, people. Stay (reasonably) involved in your kids' lives, and you'll decrease the odds of them making life-altering mistakes.

    April 27, 2010 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Meraqua

    Repeat after me: correlation is not causation. Dr. Tanski might as well have said that drinking alcohol causes children to watch more R-rated movies. Did she consider the possibility that parents who are likely to control what movies their children watch are also likely to monitor them closely enough to limit alcohol use?

    April 27, 2010 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Erika

    This study is not highlighting the most important link between these two behaviors. Sure, viewing the content of an R-rated movie may contribute to a teen praticing what they've seen, but more importantly, if parents are not paying close attention to which movies their children are watching, it is more likely that they are not keeping close tabs on the behavior of their kids outside the home and even alone in their rooms. I think it is unlikely that most parents who allow the viewing of R-rated movies by their children are also sitting down and watching the movies alongside their kids. It's an uncomfortable situation for both parties, just like having a serious conversation about underage drinking, and unfortunately is much easier to avoid or ignore for some parents.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:09 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jeff

    Seems to be a case of causation vs. correlation. Could it be simply that the R-rated movie watchers had less strict parents and as a result were able to see R-rated movies as well as drink underage?

    April 27, 2010 at 12:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Mari

    Could it be that parents who let their children watch R rated movies at an early age are generally more permissive – so drinking is more acceptable (or less offensive) in those families? Could it be that the types of parents who let their children watch R rated movies are in general doing a poor job parenting and giving the children too much access to "adult" things. My family was pretty strict – violent movies, movies with nudity, etc.. were just not ok. They explained why well enough and I was cool with it. As of teens now, it seems setting rules and having a real reason for the rules works.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:19 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Jim

    My wife and her sisters from Greece started drinking alcohol before they were old enough to talk much less watch R-rated movies which they were also allowed to watch.
    In Europe pacifiers are commonly dipped in wine. Young children at the dinner table are given watered down wine to drink. Age limits on purchasing alcohol (if any) are never enforced. Regular TV is "R" rated and on the news it is common to see real people getting shot and dead bodies on display.
    The problems here in the United States with young people binge drinking is that alcohol is banned from people under 21. What that does is cause alcohol to be highly coveted by the young and we can see the results.
    As we know from history, King Luis XVI of France wanted to encourage his people to eat the very unpopular potato so he sent troops to heavily guard the crops so nobody could get any. this of course made people curious and want to have potatoes after which potatoes became immensely popular.
    This has nothing to do with "R" rated movies. – The best way to get people to want something in excess is to ban it, plain and simple.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Dr. Jow Emerhoff

      This is exactly right. Somebody who knows history and has common sense. People over analyze so much.

      March 3, 2012 at 14:37 | Report abuse |
    • A.D.

      I completely agree with your point that the restriction of alcohol under 21 actually does more harm than good.
      As a Belgian, however, I can say that you are most definitely overgeneralising your point about Europe. Greece is not Europe. In Belgium, no pacifiers are ever dipped in wine, and most people start drinking only at the age of 15 or 16 (the latter of which is the official age at which that is allowed).

      May 21, 2013 at 11:56 | Report abuse |
  11. KBA

    It seems to me that the study may be flawed in that it's only focusing on the behavior of the children. I tend to think that a parent who allows an underage child to watch an "R" rated movie may be lenient in many other areas of child rearing and this could be the reason the alcohol incidence is higher. Some parents turn a blind eye to alcohol consumption (and some even think it's fine) because of the "coolness" factor. I know many of the "popular" kids in my son's school drank alcohol and their parents simply allowed it. Some even subsidized it! I will guarantee you those are the same parents whose kids were allowed to watch "R" rated movies in middle school. So maybe the study should focus on the parents in addition to the kids. I believe you will find many more answers there.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Ryan Collins

    How about parents who are willing to let there children watch this stuff aren't as involved in their kids' lives? I think we are leaving out an important issue here: parental involvement.

    April 27, 2010 at 13:05 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. A Fact

    I've been seeing R-rated movies since I was 10 years old (my parents would take me, I never snuck in).

    Both my parents smoked almost 3 packs a day and there was hard liquor in the house (my mother drank once in awhile, my father never drank alcohol).

    Aside from drinking a beer every so often in my sophmore year in college, I haven't drank since and I never took up smoking.

    April 27, 2010 at 13:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Joe

    These "studies" are often horrifyingly stupid.
    Let me guess: in many of these homes, the parents were heavy drinkers.
    As well as not being good parents....

    April 27, 2010 at 13:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Darius

    I love how parents take thier children to "R" rated movies or even buy tickets for them and leave them in the theater without evening knowing what the movies are about. Then when thier child starts experimenting with drugs and alchol. They wonder where they learn about it.

    April 27, 2010 at 13:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Brad

    There's also a link between underage drinking and a ridiculously high drinking age...

    April 27, 2010 at 14:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Bubba

    So is it the movies, or the slack parents? Hmmm?

    April 27, 2010 at 14:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Don

    Does anyone else see the problem with the study? Asking kids about things that their Parents have told them is wrong will not get honest answers. If an adult tell a child "Did you drink alcohol? I promise I won't tell your parents" how do you think they are going to answer? The children of parents that aren't overly concerned with the media content that their kids watch will more likely answer honestly. The kids that have parents that are concerned with the moral content of what they watch or read will be less likely to answer honestly. Humans are hard to study and kids are even harder.

    April 27, 2010 at 15:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. William

    Well, I think that one thing leads to another here; they are inter-connected. Watching nudity and violence at a very early age will probably change your behavior lifestyle as you get older and therefore increase the chances of living a more stressful life. By drinking more, smoking usually follows but not always, bad eating habits, far less water drinking in your lifetime, clearly, etc., etc. A riskier lifestyle.

    I personally have no doubt about it.

    April 28, 2010 at 03:30 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. William

    All of the above causes stress. Either physical or psychological or both depending on the lifestyle behavior.

    April 28, 2010 at 03:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Sophia

    I don't see what the difference between watching the news, watching reality TV shows (which seems to be the only thing on TV these days), watching MTV or TMF, watching any prime time TV, reading comic books or fashion magazines and watching R-Rated movies is. They all contain "Adult Content and Themes". I think these studies are so general and non-scientific, it's ridiculous. And then they're reported as "news".

    The fastest way to have your kids experiment with alcohol and drugs, is to shelter them from the reality of life.. which means to ban everything that might be "Rated R". What kids need is an honest explanation of what these things are, what happens when you over-indulge and what the consequences are if they are caught or get into an accident, etc. Teenagers see themselves as adults and want to be treated that way. Yes, they might act impulsively, but ultimately, they need to be prepared to make their own choices and make smart ones. Lack of education and honesty about what drugs and alcohol can do, lack of sex-education and access to birth control and condoms and a lack of true love, openess, acceptance, and time spent with parents all contribute to poor and impulsive choices made by teenagers.

    April 28, 2010 at 05:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. kkdford

    I don't think this study is meaningless. It simply states that watching R-rated movies, amongst other things, is linked to earlier underage drinking. Is this really a shock? If parents do not place restrictions on children and adolescents, they will engage in risky behaviors. Lack of parenting results in children/adolescents thinking they can do what they want. In my personal experience in dealing with my 5-year old stepdaughter, I see this happen time and time again. She has no structure or rules at her mother's house. Now, she's about to start school and is constantly in trouble at daycare. She won't do what she's told and is disrespectful. Children behave in the way they are allowed to behave and shown to behave. So, does this study surprise me? Nope! But I definitely believe it.

    June 25, 2010 at 09:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. cdiucb

    this is not true. not all kids who watch rated r movies become drinkers. those who become drinkers are the ones with parents who arent strict with that rule or its the childs fault for not having a conscience or listening. its really the persons state of mind. this information here is pure bullcrap.

    July 22, 2010 at 17:08 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Tom, Dick and Harry

    Whenever someone has the words "Common Sense" in the title of their company, are usually the ones who have no idea what it means.
    Thanks for wasting 45 seconds of my life reading your bribble. That's 45 seconds I'll never get back.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:06 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Oscar Turner

    alcohol abuse is also deadly if you are not able to treat it at the right time .;:

    September 30, 2010 at 04:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. Michelle

    Seriously? I saw my first R-rated movie when I was 10 years old. The Patriot, with Mel Gibson (I went with my grandmother, mother, and my older sister who was then 12). Sure, that's probably a rather mild R-rated movie, just some war-type violence, but it's still R. When I was 12, my dad rented the House on Haunted Hill remake (R-rated), and me, my sister, and him all watched it.

    I saw plenty of R-rated movies throughout my pre-teen/teenage years. I'm currently a 20 year old college student and have done *way* less drinking than most kids my age. That is, I've never done more than try a sip of alcohol upon a couple of occasions when my family was having it (wine and champagne, and I once tried a sip of rum as well as a sip of vodka a couple years ago when the person I was housesitting for had a bunch of open alcohol). Most of that was immediately spit out on the grounds it tasted disgusting.

    So, yeah, personal experience would tell me that seeing R-rated movies when I was young has no effect on whether or not one is going to use alcohol at an early age.

    Not to mention, have they never heard that "correlation does not prove causation"?

    October 10, 2010 at 23:07 | Report abuse | Reply
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    of course alcohol abuse is very dangerous to the health, it can cause cirrhosis and other bad effects .

    November 7, 2010 at 13:41 | Report abuse | Reply
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  32. tony

    This is rediculous.On the continent of Earope you can drink at any age .So scientist who are doing this reaserch should stop and find other things to search about.

    October 28, 2011 at 13:28 | Report abuse | Reply
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