Blame Hollywood For Underage Drinking?


Business Week reports on a study that names "adult" behavior on the big screen as a culprit in teen drinking:

Corrupting our children?

Children who aren't allowed to watch R-rated movies are much less likely to start drinking alcohol at an early age, a new study suggests.

Researchers questioned nearly 3,600 middle-school children in New England and followed-up about two years later. In that time, 3 percent of the kids who said their parents never allowed them to watch R-rated movies said they had started drinking alcohol, compared with 19 percent of those who were sometimes allowed to watch R-rated movies and 25 percent of those who said they were allowed to watch such movies "all the time."

…Depictions of alcohol consumption appear in about 90 percent of R-rated movies, Sargent said, which may be one reason why children who see such movies are more likely to start drinking at a young age. But he noted that previous studies have suggested that children who watch R-rated movies become more prone to "sensation seeking" and "risk taking."

"We think seeing the adult content actually changes their personality," he added.

Well, that's one theory, but it's not a very good one. Rather than reaching for the dubious big-bad-media-is-warping-their-psyches explanation, researchers might consider the obvious: Children are influenced by their parents. Doesn't it seem far more likely that children raised in permissive households—for example, those in which they are allowed to watch R-rated movies earlier—are more likely to have more lenient parents (the kind who might be less worried about underage drinking) and/or less supervision (giving the kids more opportunities to drink)? It also seems reasonable to assume that permissive parents are more likely to be drinkers themselves, which means a greater chance of access to alcohol in the home.

So you don't need to resort to shaky psychology to explain the link: Permissive parenting makes it easier for children to watch R-rated movies and easier for them to drink. The problem with this explanation, of course, is that it makes it much more difficult to continue obsessing about how Hollywood is corrupting our youth. 

One way to deal with under-21 drinking would be to legalize it for everyone who can vote and be drafted. Here's on why we ought to drop the drinking age to 18:

NEXT: Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Washington, West Virginia, and Wyoming

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  1. Isn’t the consumption of alcohol per capita like the lowest it’s ever been in the history of the universe?

    1. no, that period of time would have occurred before the formation of the ethyl chain.

      1. but capita would be zero, so still.

  2. I blame the same thing that causes earthquakes for most underage drinking.

    1. Boobs? I concur…alcohol provides the most consistant access to boobs.

      1. Therefore alcohol causes earthquakes. Problem solved.

      2. Therefore alcohol causes earthquakes. We have now solved the problem!

  3. Okay everybody, say it with me: “Correlation does not equal causation.”

  4. I want a study on the inverse effect.

    Do parents that let their children drink alcohol watch more ‘R’ rated movies than prohibitionist parented children?

    the facts must be known!!!

  5. 90 percent of R-rated movies depict alcohol consumption? I’ll be renting the responsible depictions for my children.

    1. Remember that this includes getting a beer from the fridge after a long day at work, having a glass of wine with dinner, or washing your mouth out with Scope. You can’t be too careful with Scope; it’s a gateway booze.

  6. Children who aren’t allowed to watch R-rated movies have strict, attentive parents are much less likely to start drinking alcohol at an early age, a new study suggests.

    Fixed that for ya, Business Week.

  7. Gee, who’d have imagined that the people from the Journal of Alcohol and Drugs would be a bunch of nannine?

    1. Make that “nannies.”

    2. While it’s tempting to call them “baristi” because of the Italian roots, the plural of “barista” is “journalism majors.”

  8. If you are old enough to drive, you are old enough to drink!

    1. If you are old enough to get a one-way ticket to Iraq, you are old enough to drink!

    2. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.

    3. I’m as critical of MADD these days as anyone, but I don’t think that’s the connection we want to be making here…

      1. You dont have a sense of humor do you?

        joe b does, that was a great response.

  9. Big alcohol pays Hollywood for this privilege in order to get young people to drink their poison. It’s obvious.

  10. How about a simpler explanation:

    Children precocious enough to be interested in R-rated movies are precocious enough to want to try alcohol.

    It’s kind of like observing that children who read adult-themed books are more likely to try alcohol, but it’s far less sexy to obsess about children reading books.

  11. At Passover seders Jewish kids (and sometimes non-Jewish ones) see adults drinking. In fact, in most households kids actually do drink wine. Can you imagine the level of alcoholism that must exist in the Jewish community?! In fact it’s a miracle that the religion still exists.

    Well, maybe the last bit is true, but as I recall (and I’m too lazy to search out the actual data) alcoholism has a disproportionately lower incidence among Jews than among non-Jews.
    As well as the self-selection counter-arguments above.

    1. Oy Vey

    2. A similar thing happens in traditional Italian or French families. Maybe exposing children to responsible use teaches them, instead of expecting responsibility to magically appear at midnight on their 21st birthday?

    3. Geoff, you are correct. Alcoholism has been less frequently observed in the Ashkanazi Jewish population.

    4. maybe this has something to do with the quality of manischevitz.

    5. Manischevitz counts as wine now?

      1. Dammit I did not look at the replies before posting that.

  12. So, reason, which one of these statements is closer to what we believe:

    * Parents are better able to effectively restrict minors’ drinking than the government


    * Teenage drinking isn’t nearly as big a deal as the public health nannies make it out to be. Although kids can go too far, it’s mostly just a part of growing up.

    Inquiring minds…

    1. What’s wrong with believing both? False dichotomy … Ergo! Vis-a-vie! Concordantly!

  13. Is this nanny day at Reason? Happy meals, drinking….

    I’m waiting for the post on smokes.

  14. “We think seeing the adult content actually changes their personality,”
    Gotta love “science”.

    1. Finding a correlation and calling it a relationship isn’t science…

  15. Dr Sargent, as sited in the article, appears to presume his audience agrees young people should not drink. Parents who let their children watch R rated movies might not agree.

  16. Isn’t the drinking age limit for 21 is legally considered appropriate? Now, the law wants to lower the age limit to maybe under-age minors, I think? That’s just inappropriate, ridiculous, while raising more health/mental concerns, & may cause more on-the-road accidental problems. They are running things backward. Why don’t the law further raise the drinking age limit to 24, 25, or 26 instead. That sounds more like it.

    What are they thinking that the young adults are maturing too fast for the rest of the world, but they are still babies in their parents eyes. Time is happening way too soon for them and, they are venturing out in the world like little chickens crossing the road aimlessly/blindly with their heads cut off. Receiving maybe no guidance, maybe no moral support, maybe no family values, maybe not obeying the rules of the road, maybe not obeying the ten commandments and/or the U.S. constitutional rights amendments. Nothing at all but wasting themselves to be only equipped with boozing, partying, & being reckless. That is all that matters to some kids. They don’t think/see that way but only to have fun, fun, fun.

    Hollywood is a very bad example. They are not parenting anyone’s children normally. They love to send nothing but bad/mixed/confused messages to kids who likes to soak up that crappy, useless, & abnormal stuff. They don’t care how the parents feel or think about such things like everyone else does. Hollywood only cares about whatever they produce & make profit of it. If it’s out there in the market, of course, people would want to buy to their preference or curiosity. Nothing changes that. BLAH! BLAH! BLAH!

  17. Do these “experts” suggest that there are no depictiions of alcohol in G or PG movies. Or network television?

  18. Here’s a link to the study.…../4460.html

    They claim to have adjusted for parenting styles such that the only influencing factor would be exposure to R-rated movies. I’ve yet to read the study, but I’m finding that assertion a rather difficult one to believe. You guys decide.

  19. Factually, some of the children watches movies and TV shows of their favorite peer celebrity idol(s) portraying of doing drugs/alcohols/tobaccos, sex, suicide, violence, disobedient to parents & authorities, doing school bullying, and displacing improper other behaviors. Some of the children learns from their peer celebrity idols as their actual role models in life. They would use that wrong disturbed information to mimic them and wanting to become more like them. They want to experience of being popular, cool, feeling an almost equal to their peers, and maybe displaying a sense of likenesses to their depicting idols. Most certainly, Hollywood is the blame of instilling & exhibiting such negative inappropriate, indiscriminatory, & indiscreet media contents to young children’s nurturing learning minds. No wonder there is so much problem with today’s children. They are literally competing to fit into with Hollywood’s so-called images.

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