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Parents Desensitized to Sex and Violence in Movies, Study Finds

When it comes to sex and violence, the more parents see, the less they care.

That’s the takeaway form a new study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center on the attitudes that parents of children aged 6 to 18 have towards film content that may be objectionable or disturbing.

Researchers showed bloody or erotic scenes from PG-13 and R-rated movies such as “8 Mile,” “Collateral,” “Die Hard” and “Casino Royale” to 1,000 parents and found that they grew desensitized as the body count mounted and sexual activity heated up. The research was conducted online last January.

The findings will be published in Pediatrics and the report serves as a companion to a 2013 study by Annenberg that found that gun violence in PG-13 movies has tripled since 1985 and movies with that rating contain more gun violence than R-rated movies.

“The rise of violence and gun violence in PG-13 movies means that lots of kids are able to go into movie theaters and see explicit violence,” said Dan Romer, associate director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the study’s lead author. “We wanted to find out why parents didn’t show more concern. Why was this happening without pushback?”

To get their results, researchers showed parents three pairs of movie scenes featuring either violent or sexual content. Sex appeared to be more taboo for parents than violence, but not by much.

After viewing the first movie clip, respondents thought the minimum age to see a movie with that kind of violent content should be 16.9 years old on average and 17.2 years old for sexual content. After watching the sixth and final scene, parents grew more lenient, deeming 13.9 years acceptable for violent films and 14 years old for sexual ones.

The study’s authors argue that there may be social costs to greater permissiveness.

“We’re undergoing a massive amount of exposure for kids to gun violence and in a society in which there are lot of guns that could influence attitudes people have,” said Romer.

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