DMS film study connects violent, mature film content to poor school performance

by Ashley Zuzek | 11/8/06 6:00am

There is a strong relationship between exposure to violent, adult-content films and poor school performance in adolescent students, according to a recently published study conducted by Dr. James Sargent, a Dartmouth Medical School pediatrician.

Sargent, who has studied the impact of many different aspects of adult movies on adolescent behavior, said that the material in R-rated films can cause a multitude of undesirable effects in children.

He found that the odds of poor school performance increased as weekday television time increased and that children who watched R-rated movies, even occasionally, demonstrated significantly poorer performance than those who never watched R-rated films.

"There is a lot in adult media that kids are not developmentally ready to process," Sargent said. "This has an adverse effect on kids, causing them to be more rebellious, adopt high-risk behaviors and perform worse in school."

The disturbing scenes in films intended for adults can disrupt the sleep of children, causing their performance in school to suffer, he said.

Sargent said that he hopes the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics, will come to the attention of parents.

Television exposure has already been linked to aggression, obesity, substance abuse and other unhealthy behavior, and this study enforces the importance of parental control in media exposure, he said.

"I think it's generally accepted that a part of good parenting is to make sure that you know where your kids are, make sure you feed them every day, keep them out of trouble," Sargent said. "But I think it's also important to look at how much television kids watch and what they watch."

The results of the study support the guidelines for media exposure proposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which suggests limiting weekday television and video game time to less than one hour and restricting access to adult media.

The data for the study was compiled from roughly 4,500 middle-school students between the ages of 10 and 14 years old in New Hampshire and Vermont. The survey, conducted in 1999, asked students the number of hours they spent watching movies during the week and the weekend, as well as cable movie channel availability and parental control over television.

The study took into account variables in parenting style, child personality and demographics, but did not measure child intelligence.

Some Dartmouth students found the idea of violence in movies affecting scholastic achievement likely.

"I feel like every child is different, but for the most part this seems plausible," Ayla Glass '09 said. "I know when I was a kid, if I watched a scary movie I always thought monsters were going to come get me at night."

Other students, reflecting upon their own experiences, felt that violent movies have minimal effects on academic achievement.

"I have been watching scary movies since my mom said I was old enough [in my early teens]," Sheldon Miles '09 said, "and I go to a good college and did pretty well in school."