The Reel: Study finds PG-13 films now more violent than R-rated movies

Ben Conniff

The kids are not alright.

A new study conducted by The Ohio State University and the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals that the amount of gun violence in PG-13 rated films has exceeded that of R-rated movies in recent years.

In this context, gun violence constitutes instances in which “a weapon carried with 1 or both hands fires a bullet or energy beam with the intention of harming or killing a living target.”

Researchers examined 945 films, including samples from the top 30 highest grossing releases of each year from 1950 to 2012.

420 of these films were taken from the period after the PG-13 rating was introduced in 1985.

Of those 420, 396 of them contained “1 or more 5-minute segments containing violence.”

The results indicate that, in 62 years, gunplay has more than doubled in the most popular American films.

A mean rate of 1.26 violent segments per hour appeared in G and PG movies since the mid-80s.

Over the same period, R-rated pictures exhibited 2.15 violent, gun-related segments per hour.

No clear metric is given here for PG-13 films – it just says that the rate of violence has been as high as R-rated films since 2009 and finally exceeded the mean in 2012.

This study was conducted in the wake of last year’s shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook to examine “the weapons effect” on young people.

The increased frequency with which gun violence appears in films approved for adolescent audiences could be providing scripts for how to use guns.

Future research will support this claim.

For now, the results serve as a call for a revision of America’s film rating system.

The method used by the United Kingdom could serve as a template for America’s revisions.

More stringent film ratings and stronger enforcement at movie theaters will keep more kids from seeing inappropriate content on the big screen.

But problems arise when considering how to uphold these policies for home viewing.

With the emergence of cable television and Netflix, children younger than 13 now have access to more PG-13 and R-rated movies than ever.

This means that parents need to assume a greater role in filtering what their children watch.

Most television sets have a “V-chip,” which allows parents to automatically block certain programs based on their rating.

Netflix could take greater measures to filter their content, but that only works if the parents are willing to take the time to set up an account or revise its settings if they already have one.

All this isn’t to say that every child is transformed into a delusional maniac after watching a violent movie.

Stringent changes may not be fair for those who aren’t compelled to fight crime as a masked vigilante after watching “Spider-Man.”

It’s just that the public health community concludes, after 30 years of research, that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increased aggression, especially in children.

The problem could fix itself if Hollywood executives simply reconsider the amount of violent content they approve for screenplays intended for young viewers.