The Dark Knight Rises, Vampire Academy, The Hunger Games—these recent box-office hits all carry a PG-13 rating. Is your teenager mature enough to handle the violence in these films?

"What we’re finding is that a child’s exposure to violence increases aggressive behavior and cognition," says Jeffrey Rothweiler, PhD, clinical child psychologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. "Children learn to see the world through an aggressive lens, looking at situations in terms of conflict rather than cooperation."

'Not Suitable for Children'
A 2013 report in the journal Pediatrics found that gunplay in PG-13 movies has nearly tripled since 1985. The report also suggests PG-13 films are more violent than R-rated films. Film and video game ratings are a good starting point to learn about violent content, but Dr. Rothweiler warns parents not to consider these ratings the final word.

"Anyone who plays video games can tell you the M rating on Call of Duty Modern Warfare is not the same as the M rating on Grand Theft Auto V," Dr. Rothweiler says. "Not all children are the same, either. Some kids can handle PG-13 material before they’re 13, while others still can’t handle that material at 17. I encourage parents to go and see the movie or play the video game themselves first."

No Talking, Please
Some desensitization to violence is unavoidable. Even TV commercials and the evening news can expose kids to disturbing images. The key is to not sit in silence.

"In general, children and teenagers who have more verbal communication with their parents are less likely to have behavioral issues," says Isabel Rosenbloom, MD, a Washington University pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and with Tots Thru Teens Pediatrics. "Have open conversations with your children every day, and always talk through movies together afterward."

You can minimize your child’s exposure to violence by:

  • Limiting screen time. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children spend no more than two hours each day in front of a screen. Use the timer on tablet devices to help you keep track of time.
  • Making the bedroom a screen-free zone. Place all computers and TVs in an open area in your house so you can monitor what your kids are watching.
  • Thinking outside the tube. Encourage your kids to play outside more, get involved in school clubs and extracurricular activities, and read printed books.

Worried about your teen’s aggressive behavior? Call St. Louis Children’s Hospital’s Teen Helpline at 314.454.TEEN (8336) for free professional advice.


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