4 Reasons You Should Pay Close Attention to Your Teen's Movies

Movies influence teens
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Countless research studies suggest that adolescents’ behavior is heavily influenced by what they see in media, including movies. Whether they watch popular actors engaging in casual sex, or they watch their favorite characters guzzle alcohol, watching these scenes impacts the way teens see the world.

Even smart teens who make good decisions can be easily influenced by the media. Here are four reasons you should pay close attention to your teen’s movie viewing practices:

Smoking is Glamorized

Based on review of several research studies, The National Cancer Institute concluded that watching movie characters smoke increases adolescent smoking. A 2002 study published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine found that watching people smoke in movies led to increased positive attitudes about smoking. It also caused viewers to overestimate how many people actually smoke.

Despite these startling findings, movies continue to portray smoking. A 2011 study conducted by the University of California San Francisco, found that on-screen smoking has increased. And even more startling, the top-grossing films with significant smoking targeted a young audience. 

Violence is Normalized

Today’s movies are much more violent and graphic than movies from a decade ago. While old school horror movies were filled with suspense, today’s horror films are filled with blood and gore.


Yet, a study published in Pediatrics found that many kids and teens have seen the most graphic and violent films on the market. Researchers identified the 40 most violent movies available and then interviewed kids to learn which ones they’d seen. They found that on average, 12.5% of kids had seen each movie.

The research about whether violence in the media increases a teen's risk factor for committing violent behavior is mixed. But either way, exposing teens to scenes that portray sadistic torture, rape, and violence isn't healthy.

Sex is Glorified

Teens often gain a lot of their sexual education through movies. A 2009 study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior reported that more than half of U.S. adolescents ages 14 to 16 relied on media for their primary source of sexual information. Many movies glorify casual sex and without showing potential consequences, like unintended pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. 

A 2012 study published in Psychological Science reports that watching R-rated movies is associated with an earlier sexual debut, increased sexual partners, and more frequent sex without a condom among adolescents. Higher levels of sexual exposure in movies prior to the age of 15 predicted riskier sexual behavior in adulthood.

Alcohol is Romanticized

Whether the movie portrays people casually sipping wine or binge drinking during a bachelor party, scenes that involve alcohol can influence teens to drink.

A study published in Pediatrics found that 15 year olds who watch alcohol consumption in movies are more likely to drink. 

The researchers concluded that teens who watched movies that portrayed drinking were 20% more likely to have tried alcohol. They were also 70% more likely to binge drink. They were more than twice as likely to drink more than one time per week and to suffer alcohol-related problems, like getting into trouble with the police because of their drinking.

It’s not just Rated-R movies that portray drinking. A review of top-grossing American films in 2009 found that 49% of PG-13 films and 25% of PG films showed more than two minutes of alcohol use.

Reduce the Harmful Impact of Unhealthy Messages

Clearly, it’s not just movies that are sending harmful messages to teens - and these aren't the only harmful messages being sent. TV shows, magazines, online videos, and video games are just a few of the other outlets that heavily influence today’s teens. It’s important to take steps to combat the unhealthy messages that bombard your teen on a daily basis.

Take steps to limit your teen’s screen time, and set rules and limits about what your teen is allowed to watch in the theater as well as at home. Discuss the harmful messages and educate your teen about how to be media savvy. 

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