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Rated G for Gunplay

Firearms common in kids' movies, but consequences aren't

TUESDAY, Dec. 14, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- The last thing you probably worry about when your youngster is clamoring to see the latest kids' movie is gun violence.

Yet, as many as one in four children's movies from 1998 through 2002 featured firearms, a new study finds. Surprisingly, even movies with an innocuous G rating weren't exempt from such displays.

Even worse, the study found that few of the movies showed the consequences of gun use.

"The movies in which a character discharged a firearm rarely showed a person or animal injured or killed; this may minimize the child's perception of the potential dangers of firearms," the researchers wrote. Their report appears as a letter in the Dec. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"I was shocked at the number of movies [containing firearms]," said Dr. Karen Pierce, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "I go to see these movies, and I don't see it."

The new report is a follow-up on a study conducted from 1995 through 1997 by the same researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In that study, they found that 40 percent of children's movies depicted firearms. The good news from the latest study is that number is down to 28 percent.

To accurately compare the two time periods studied, the researchers kept all of the study parameters the same. For every year, they chose the 25 highest-grossing films that were rated G or PG by the Motion Picture Association of America. Animated movies and movies that weren't set in the present time weren't included in either analysis.

For each movie, the researchers counted how many person-scenes contained firearms. If one person was handling a gun in a particular scene, that was counted as a one person-scene; if four people handled firearms in a single scene, it was considered four person-scenes.

From the 125 movies from 1998 through 2002, 61 movies matched the study criteria. Eighteen percent were rated G and 82 percent were rated PG.

There were a total of 109 person-scenes showing firearm use in the current study, compared to 127 in the previous study. Fifteen movies showed someone handling a firearm, while nine showed a firearm being discharged. In only one movie was a character injured or killed by a gun.

Another problem discovered in this study, said Dr. Mitch Spero, a child and family psychologist at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Florida, is that many of the movies showed police officers brandishing weapons.

"More than half of those depicted using firearms were law enforcement officers, but in reality, law enforcement officers rarely have to draw their guns. This may sensationalize law enforcement officers, or make children unaware that it's not a common daily occurrence for police officers to use their firearms," Spero said.

Additionally, he said, showing police officers drawing their weapons that often may make children believe that's how problems are handled. Instead, he said, children should be taught that the "power of speech and the pen is more powerful."

For most children, however, Spero said that seeing firearm use in the movies probably won't harm them. However, he added, any child who is oppositional or defiant in nature, or anxious or depressed, probably shouldn't see such movies, and it's important for parents of children with these problems to screen movies before letting their children see them.

Pierce said it's a good idea for parents to go to all of the movies their children see. "Be watchful and be aware of seeing things through a kid's eyes," he suggested. "Parents should be aware that even in G and PG movies, there is a potential exposure to violence."

Both Pierce and Spero recommended that parents talk to their children about what they've seen in the movies, though Pierce cautioned that the discussion should be kept age-appropriate and that parents shouldn't give more details about violence than a child is ready to hear.

"You don't want to scare your child," Pierce explained. "Just say enough to answer their questions."

More information

To learn more about media violence and its effects on children, visit the National Institute on Media and the Family.

SOURCES: Karen Pierce, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist and medical director, partial hospitalization program, Children's Memorial Hospital, and assistant professor, psychiatry and behavioral sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago; Mitch Spero, Psy.D., director, Child and Family Psychologists, Plantation and Weston, Fla., and child and family psychologist, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Hollywood, Fla.; Dec. 14, 2004, Journal of the American Medical Association
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