It’s a scene seen regularly in movie theaters, but it’s not one witnessed on the silver screen.
A mother, father or family sit in the theater of an R-rated movie with their younger children. Whether it received the rating due to language and some violence, like “Lincoln,” or what’s called a “hard R” because of explicit sex or violence, they have made the decision to allow their children to view it.
While the issue can’t be policed by anyone but the parent, it’s a concern for counselors and others worried that the child is not ready to filter the adult content.
Lafayette High School social worker Jean West said it’s a problem she has encountered on several occasions.
“I talk to a lot of kids who deal with trauma, and it’s interesting that they will mention something like a violent movie as a traumatizing event,” she says. “It obviously left a big impression on them and lingers with them.”
Agreeing with the sentiment, Joyce Estes, director of the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center, says she often sees parents let their children watch violent or adult material with the thought that their children aren’t affected by the violence or profanity or are too young to understand. Unlike an adult, she says, kids have no filter to process it and are still malleable to what the movie is teaching.
“It does affect them. They see that and they take that in and that becomes part of who they are because that’s what they’re learning,” she says.
Past studies, including one in 2010 in Prevention Science, a scientific journal of the Society for Prevention Research, have shown R-rated and violent movies may cause children to try alcohol at an early age because of its glorification, as well as becoming desensitized and violent.
In cases of abused children, the violence seen on the screen reinforces and perpetuates a life that they see every day.
“There are kids that are physically abused ... who are hit at home and beat at home and then see it and that’s the way they react — they hit, they kick, they fight. That’s their way of dealing, that’s what they know,” Ms. Estes says.
While ultimately the choice is up to the parent to deem what they approve of for their children, others have expressed in concern.
In September, it was reported Stephen Simon, a Hollywood producer behind such films as the Robin Williams drama “What Dreams May Come” and the comedy “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” confronted a woman for bringing her child to the movies to see the gritty, violent cop film “End Of Watch.” Viewing taking the child to the film as borderline child abuse, the incident ended with him calling child services and speaking with the theater manager. Both stated it was not their call to decide what children see with an approving adult.
“I do not believe in censorship. I’ve produced ‘R’ rated movies myself. I just don’t think that little children should be forced by their parents to experience the kind of violence and/or profanity and/or explicit sexuality in ‘R’ rated films,” he stated in a blog entry.
If box office receipts prove anything, it’s that R-rated movies are more popular than ever. In past years, more explicit films would rarely crack the top 10 for the year in box office grosses. This year, the profanity-laced and sexually charged “Ted” sits at number 6 with $218 million. In 2011, “The Hangover 2” accomplished a similar feat, much like its predecessor, with more than $250 million in total sales.
Ms. West said she believes not all of those ticket sales were to people 18-years-old and older.
“I think parents are more likely to take their kids to R-rated movies. Maybe in years past we would have taken more caution,” Ms. West says. “I think the line has dropped on what we think that kids are able to view.”
While a parent may find it harder to stop kids from watching sex and violence on TV or the Internet, psychologists see them taking their children to explicit movies at the theater as figurative thumbs-up for the content they’re watching.
If a parent deems the content as appropriate for the child, they need to take steps in helping them filter the violence and adult content in the movie. Sites such as Common Sense Media will give parents a detailed list of the content the movie contains and an age recommendation for viewing.
After watching the film, the approving adult needs to discuss with the child what they saw, how to properly react to it and why the characters did what they did.
“Sometimes, I will tell their parents that they want to monitor what they’re watching and discuss the content, so that the child will be able to process it,” Ms. West says.
Completely blocking out all violent material will be a useless task, Ms. Estes says.
“Some of my children tried blocking that from their kids. I didn’t agree with that and I still don’t agree with that because that just made them want to see it more. Then they go somewhere else to see it and you can’t monitor them,” she says.
A happy medium can be reached, with the understanding that discussion of the material will follow.
“You watch the movies with them. You get good movies, you get good shows, you watch shows that are good for them (and) you talk about it with them,” Ms. Estes says. “You do it as a family. That’s probably the best that you can do.”