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Children’s movies depict risky behavior :

March 8, 2016
  • Boppana S, et al. J Dev Behav Pediatr. Feb. 17, 2016,

Children’s movies with animals that talk and wizards who can fly on brooms may seem like an escape from reality, but young viewers may be picking up some bad real-world habits, according to a new study.

Researchers found these characters don’t always practice good safety sense like wearing seat belts in the car and helmets on motorcycles, which children may imitate.

“Parents should consider the safety implications of movies their children might view and be mindful that, depending on their children’s age, children may not recognize distinctions between fantasy and reality or the past versus the present in movies,” researchers said.

Noting that nearly one-quarter of deaths of children ages 5-19 are due to motor vehicle-related injuries, the team set out to see how much risky transportation-related behavior was on display in children’s movies. They looked at the top five grossing movies of each year from 2008 to 2013 that were rated G or PG. Those included “Frozen,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Despicable Me” and “Toy Story III.”

The team found:

  • 20% of scenes involving motor vehicles included characters without seat belts;
  • 21% of scenes involving motor vehicles showed characters speeding;
  • 27% of scenes involving motorcycles included characters without helmets;
  • 67% of scenes involving boats included characters without personal flotation devices;
  • 89% of scenes involving horseback riding included characters without helmets;
  • 90% of pedestrians crossed the street without waiting for the signal to change; and
  • depiction of distracted driving was rare.

Scenes involving transportation typically involved adults, but when children were shown, they often displayed bad habits. Most characters in these scenes also were male, which could influence boys who already have a higher unintentional injury rate than girls, according to the study.

“All stakeholders — movie-makers and parents among them — must consider how to balance art and public health with developmental appropriateness of exposing children to films to achieve shared goals of entertainment and safety,” researchers said.

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