Pediatrics Journal  researchers from Dartmouth Medical School estimate more than 2.5 million children ages 10 to 14 watch the typical violent, R-rated movie.

Yesterday’s turn of events in Colorado were tragic and sad. I was left with one question though: ” Why were toddlers in that movie theater ? ” It actually prompted an even deeper question. It was odd to me that such young children were in a theater.

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First, you must understand the ratings that I am talking about.

PG-13 — Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13. A PG-13 rating is a sterner warning by the Rating Board to parents to determine whether their children under age 13 should view the motion picture, as some material might not be suited for them. A PG-13 motion picture may go beyond the PG rating in theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements, but does not reach the restricted R category.

R — Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian. An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously

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Previous studies have found violent media can increase aggression and desensitize to real violence, and many violent films are marketed during kids’ TV shows. Worth and colleagues asked 6,522 children if they had seen movies from a list of 534 released in the past few years. Researchers plucked 40 R-rated movies with “the most extreme examples of graphic violence” and found that, on average, 12.5% of kids had seen each movie.

The study didn’t ask whether children saw them in theaters, on video, on cable TV or on the Internet, but more than one in three said parents let them watch R-rated movies “sometimes” or “all the time.” Even among kids who said their parents never let them watch such movies, 22.6% had seen at least one. Children with TVs in their bedroom saw more violent movies, and African-American boys were much more likely to have seen them. More than 80% said they had seen Blade, Training Day and the horror spoof Scary Movie.

Theaters admit children under 17 to R-rated movies with an adult. Researchers say ratings must warn explicitly that violent movies “should not be seen by young adolescents.” And they say pediatricians should teach parents about the risks.

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Gerard Jones, author of Killing Monsters: Why Children Need Fantasy, Superheroes and Make-Believe Violence, says it’s not surprising kids see such movies. “As nasty as the movies are, they are a classic, vital part of teen culture,” he says, by allowing kids to bond as they scream in terror. But he sees the wisdom in modifying ratings to add “something between an R and an NC-17 rating” and says intensely violent movies “are not for someone under 14.” I don’t care if it’s violence, sex, swearing, or the overall subject of the R-rated film, it’s rated R for a reason and parents who think their children are mature enough or “can handle it” are fooling themselves. Or they’re just plain lazy. Or they would rather subject their offspring to god-knows-what on the screen just to save on the cost and hassle of getting a babysitter for a few hours, which—despite the high prices of movie tickets these days, is still going to be more expensive than hauling the crew out to the movies.

It’s clear where I stand on this issue. No young kids in PG 13 or R-rated movies—ever. But what do YOU think?

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