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Violent movies? Maybe. Just, please, no chihuahuas

August 5, 2008 | 12:57 pm

NewlastsummerGasp. Children are exposed to violence in movies. Hard to believe, I know, but it must be true -- I read it in today's L.A. Times.

The story, based on a study by Dartmouth University researchers, establishes that gore-laden films pull in 12.5% of the nation's 10- to 14-year-olds. Boys factor high in that percentage.

If you're not surprised by that -- apparently having been to a theater in the last decade or so -- you might at least wonder about the effects.

Here's what the American Psychiatric Assn. has to say: "Over the last three decade, the one overriding finding in research on the mass media is that exposure to media portayals of violence increases aggressive behavior in children."

It goes on to include tips on how to control kids' viewing habits. (The words "good luck with that" are, perhaps unrealistically, not included.)

And here's what the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry has to say: "Hundreds of studies on the effects of TV violence on children and teenagers have found that children may:

* become immune or numb to the horror of violence;

* gradually accept violence as a way to solve problems;

* imitate the violence they observe on television; and

* identify with certain characters, victims and/or victimizers."

Among these "hundreds of studies" is one in which angelic, '60s-era children were found to be more likely to go Freddy Krueger on one of those inflatable plastic clowns after watching an adult smack it around a few times. Granted, this was a different era, and kids may have had some clown issues that the adult world didn't then recognize, still thinking of them as fun and benign. It's sobering research nonetheless. Here's an earlier story on some of that research -- and the clown-smacking video. (Don't let your kids see this.)

If you're one of those parents who want help watching what your kids watch, the National Institute on Media and the Family is here for you, with report cards, advice and all sorts of feedback on various forms of entertainment.

True, it's hard to prove a cause and effect between media violence and acts of aggression, but it seems logical to at least try to limit kids' exposure to gore and mayhem. And as someone who narrowly dodged a kneecapping by a 3-year-old doing some kind of weird (and loud) theatrical fighting lunges in a department store last weekend, I say the earlier those limits start, the better.

But what I really want to know is when someone is going to limit my exposure to the "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" trailer. You want violence? I'm not sure I can be responsible for my actions if I have to sit through that one more time.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Jennifer Love Hewitt and Brandy in "I Still Know What You Did Last Summer," one of the films mentioned in the latest research.

Credit: Columbia Pictures / Mandalay Entertainment