07/05/2010 05:12 am ET Updated 4 days ago

Can Restricting R-Rated Films Steer Kids Away From Drinking?

2010-05-06-movie.jpgA recent Dartmouth University study claims that deterring kids from watching R-rated movies will help steer them away from alcohol and drugs and "a lot of other things that parents don't want them to do." The study, which involved New England middle school kids, meanwhile found no link between such movies and their consumption of clam chowder.

The Dartmouth team came to their conclusions after identifying thousands of middle-schoolers who'd never drunk alcohol. In re-interviews with roughly 2,000 of these children 1-2 years later, nearly 15% had started secretly drinking. Cross-referencing this with their parents' leniency in allowing R-rated films revealed that kids who were allowed to watch adult movies represented the greatest increase in alcohol use. By the way, nearly a quarter of the kids interviewed reported having parents who let them watch R-rated movies "all the time."

Using research methods far above my understanding, the researchers say that the direct connection between movie-watching and drinking is apparent even when you take into account different parenting styles (not including Charlie Sheen). The researchers even refer to the movies as "media parenting."

While it's hardly shocking that kids mirror the behavior of movie stars who drink and smoke, I had five other instantaneous reactions:

1) What kind of parents lets kids see R-rated movies all the time? It seems like you'd have to go out of your way to allow that to happen. Mom: "Kids, I'm so sick of SpongeBob! How about we watch Basic Instinct again?"

2) It's hard to control the media our kids are exposed to, but parental behavior is another story. I'd like to hear more about what happens when parents themselves drink in front of kids. Personally, I just don't do it.

3) Who's studying the effect of university researchers asking kids about drinking and R-rated movies on the rates of kids drinking and watching R-rated movies?

4) Given how kids model behavior of their screen idols, what can we do to put the brakes on what seems like an inevitable Miley-to-Britney transformation?

5) Note to self: Never go to an R-rated movie in New England. Kids will ruin it.

Joel Schwartzberg is an award-winning humorist and author of "The 40-Year-Old Version"