PG-13 movies now have more gun violence than R-rated ones.
I was in fourth grade when Red Dawn debuted as the first PG-13 rated movie back in 1985. At the time Red Dawn was released, it was considered one of the most violent films by The National Coalition on Television Violence, with a rate of 134 acts of violence per hour, or 2.23 per minute. And although not every PG-13 movie has had significant violence (think Pretty in Pink) it turns out PG-13 and gun violence have become close bedfellows over the last 28 years.
New research out today in Pediatrics finds that gun violence is becoming a more common thread in the movies. Researchers sampled 945 films (all from the top 30 grossing films annually) since 1950, coding and evaluating 5-minute violent sequences in those films. The results proved unsurprising but unsettling: overall gun-violent sequences more than doubled in the sixty years from 1950 to 2012. When looking specifically at PG-13 movies researchers saw a tripling in gun violence since the rating was created in 1985. The trend for violence in these PG-13 movies has grown so rapidly it’s created a new reality. Over the past 30 years, R-rated movies have shown no change in the amount of gun violence sequences while PG-13 have soared making gun violence more prominent in PG-13 movies than in R-rated movies. Stunning when you think of it — gun imagery densely populating the movies targeting our teens. Yes, violence sells.
The Weapons Effect
Researchers embarked on this study in part because of concerns about the weapons effect. They note that the national dialogue about guns and safety has been lacking mention of the weapons effect, that is, the fact that just seeing a weapon can increase aggression or aggressive behavior. It was more than 50 years ago that researchers first described the weapons effect with 50 subsequent studies replicating the effect. Further study has found that even just hearing about guns can increase our aggression. The weapons effect is consistent in both angry and non-angry people.
Exposure to violent media can increase aggressive attitudes, behaviors, and values, particularly in children. This finding has been scientifically reviewed and replicated numerous times; it is endorsed by 6 public health organizations (The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association).
Tips For Families And Movie Selection
- You’re not imagining it, films approved for teens have gotten more violent. As Blockbuster fades into the ether we know there are 3 times the amount of gun-violent episodes in PG-13 films today compared to the 1980’s. R-rated movies may have less gun violence than PG-13 ones.
- Weapons Effect: Movies with gun violence bring the weapons effect into your home. Children and teens not only see weapons in these films they also can see characters and heroes acting out scripts for using guns. Think carefully before letting young children or teens view violent PG-13 movies. Research shows this kind of imagery increases aggressive attitudes, values, and behavior.
- Reviews: Read reviews for movies, apps, and games prior to granting permission for watching/playing them. Review levels of violence and images of weapons in reviews. Check out Common Sense Media Movies Review for wisdom.
- Friday Movie Night: Watch movies with your children and teens when you can — know exactly what it is they’re seeing and absorbing. Co-viewing movies with your children and teen may become more and more essential, especially after entering into the PG-13 movie aisle (online).
D Austin says
This documentary does a decent job explaining some of what’s wrong with ratings. https://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/this-film-is-not-yet-rated-2006
Thank you for writing this, such important information.
Richard Huffman says
I completely agree with your observation that movies aimed at teens and children have gotten dramatically more violent. The problem is that your blog post seems to accept it is a known and accepted fact that this is damaging society or or families in some way. I don’t think there is much data to support that conclusion.
Exactly parallel to the dramatic rise in violence in film is a rather similarly dramatic drop in youth violence: https://www.cdc.gov/VIOLENCEPREVENTION/youthviolence/stats_at-a_glance/
You could easily make an argument that some form of causation is at work here (which is likely not true, but the I would argue it’s MORE likely true than the inverse: that the increase in violence in films is somehow responsible for an increase in youth violence… because that particular increase DOES NOT EXIST).
I do not doubt the Weapons Effect exist. What I have yet to see is whether is has anything other than short term effect.
I am a bit of a moralistic prude and I personally would rather not see guns used so wantonly in films aims at children and teens, and would rather see violence kept to a minimum in films aimed at them as well. But I’m also enough of a realist to admit that our kids seems to generally be able to view violent modern PG13 movies without having our society descend into anarchic madness.
J. Buck says
Your rebuttal strikes me as an optimist’s dance with numbers.
The weapon effect is undisputedly real. Your hope is that it has a short lasting effect. My concern is that it has a long term effect that may not show up in the stats that you quote, but in an increase likelihood of a lifetime of aggressive behavior that sends ripples through our communities.
I hope you are right, but I fear, alas, that I am.
Liza Greville says
My boys, ages 10 and 12, have both used real guns to shoot real animals which we use for real food – and neither is violent or aggressive in the least. A few years ago, I wrote an essay about raising kids to hunt from a parenting perspective: https://www.brainchildmag.com/2013/04/hunting-for-a-middle-ground/
I realize this post is about media violence, which I agree is a gulf of a problem. However, use of guns is culture-bound and context-bound, and I worry that the use of guns for hunting is often not taken into account in the conversation on kids and guns.
Marci Miller says
I completely agree and am so glad that someone is willing to speak up and cite research that the weapons effect increases violent acts. I hope more people will continue to consider these simple facts.
Nicolas Morillo says
Very interesting documentary. Hopefully the parents, the film industry as well legislators and other influential people in the creations of laws that deal with weapons posession aware, and take into consideration our children, who will be the future leaders, and stop teaching them that violence is valid. This is destroying families, as well as society itself, and will continue to destroy in the future, if we are not aware and take corrective action. Our children deserve our consideration and respect.