Does repeated media exposure desensitize parents to violence and sex?

January 1, 2015

To determine the answer to this question, investigators asked an online panel of 1000 parents of children aged 6 to 17 years to view a succession of brief movie scenes containing either violent or sexual content.

To determine the answer to this question, investigators asked an online panel of 1000 parents of children aged 6 to 17 years to view a succession of brief movie scenes containing either violent or sexual content. After viewing each clip, parents rated the age at which they considered it appropriate for a child to view the film from which the scene was taken. As successive clips were shown, parents supported younger ages at which they would allow their child to view such content, with movies regarded as appropriate only for older adolescents soon becoming more acceptable for younger ages.

Specifically, parents initially indicated that age 16.9 years was the minimum age at which they would consider it appropriate to view clips featuring violence and age 17.2 years for clips featuring sex. These figures declined to 13.9 years and 14.0 years, respectively, as parents viewed more clips and apparently became desensitized to depictions of sex and violence (whether violence was directed against a human or human-like character did not matter). The response to violent clips also was the same whether or not the clips were preceded by sexual content. In addition, parents were desensitized to sexual content not only when sexual clips preceded violent clips but also when they appeared later in the viewing sequence, indicating the desensitization to violence can also extend to sex.

Older parents were less likely to become desensitized to violence and sex than younger parents, and the more movies parents had watched in the past week, the less restrictive they were about the clips. With regard to sex, but not violence, parents were more restrictive if their child was older or female or if they monitored their child closely (Romer D, et al. Pediatrics. 2014;134[5]:877-884).

Ms Freedman is a freelance medical editor and writer in New Jersey. Dr Burke, section editor for Journal Club, is chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at Saint Agnes Hospital, Baltimore, Maryland. The editors have nothing to disclose in regard to affiliations with or financial interests in any organizations that may have an interest in any part of this article.