"It used to be that when a movie was rated 'G,' our whole family would go see it," says Charles Hall, associate professor of sociology at California Lutheran University, Thousand Oaks. "Now I have to preview them for my 8-year-old." Hall's problem isn't uncommon. Themes of sex, violence and death appear in unexpected places:
• A Journal of the American Medical Association study of 74 G-rated films found that characters suffered injury in 62 percent of films and died in 50 percent.
• The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 1996 law requiring late-night only broadcasting or signal scrambling of the Playboy Channel.
• Nintendo released "Perfect Dark," a video game — rated M for "mature," over 18 — that contains realistic shooting action and a sexually provocative female character. The Illinois Attorney General's office has found that M-rated games are often sold to younger teenagers.
How these themes affect youth "depends on the way in which [issues are] portrayed," Hall says. "For example, there's a tendency for films to glorify violence or downplay the consequences."
Hall offers some approaches:
Film/video: Hall tries to preview new features and watches them with his children. He says not all violent content is bad: Realistic material can provide "opportunities to talk to children [and] help them in the struggle to understand [death and violence]."
Television: The set is programmed so "[shows like Playboy] don't show up when the boys flip through the channels," Hall says. Cable companies also can provide a "trap" to completely block a channel's signals.
Video games: Mom and Dad must OK all games their sons play.
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