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Kid films aren't getting better at safety

January 11, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Parents know some of the content in R-rated movies send the wrong message to kids, but are censors missing key scenes in kids and family movies? Researchers in the Journal Pediatrics think so and they want the movie industry and parents to be aware.In movies, characters get themselves into pretty precarious positions, but in a scene from the movie "RV," actor Robin Williams is wearing a seat belt.

Previous research shows filmmakers are practicing more safety on-screen, but a new report in the Journal Pediatrics reveals half the scenes in 67 movies marketed to children between 2003 and 2007 showed unsafe behavior.

Authors say 44 percent of car passengers did not wear seat belts, 65 percent of pedestrians did not use crosswalks, and 75 percent of bicyclists did not wear helmets.

Researchers say kids imitate what they see on the screen. Psychologist Joseph Glaser agrees.

"Children learn by watching, they learn by observation," said Dr. Glaser.

But industry insider and movie critic David Poland says films aren't the only things influencing kids.

"The answer still comes down to people are going to do what people are going to do, and you can't regulate that in the film world," said Poland.

Ultimately, it is a parent's responsibility to teach and enforce safety behavior, but psychologists say movie makers are making a parent's job much harder.

"If they don't see that consequence then they're going to engage in these activities not knowing and being aware of the consequences of these actions," Glaser said.

Poland says movies are art, and many unsafe practices, such as riding a motorcycle without a helmet, is part of movie tradition.

"One of the reasons the movies don't have a lot of motorcycle helmets and bicycle helmets is because it's not cool looking, and also because you can't see the person's face," said Poland.

"It's not very cool to end up in the ER," Glaser said. "It's not very cool to have a spinal injury and end up being paralyzed."

Poland says this study feels like an attempt at censorship, and there's a fine line that shouldn't be crossed.

"There are other influences besides the movies. To say that we're not going to let anybody smoke in movies because people are going to smoke is ridiculous," said Poland.

While study authors would like to send a message to movie makers, the message is also for parents.

"It is up to parents to explain to children that what they saw on television may not be real," Glaser said.

David Poland was quick to point out that animated films were not included in the study. He says kids mainly watch cartoons, and that may a good place to teach safety precautions.