The Official Journal of the Academy of Pediatrics has published a very telling study this month on kids and violent movies (no, I'm not a pediatrician--the L.A. Times pointed me toward the story.) According to Dartmouth Medical School researchers, nine million American children between the ages of 10 and 14--or a total of 12.5 percent--are regularly exposed to very bloody, R-rated movies.
I'm a bit divided on this subject. While a parent myself (six and four), I'm also not quite as shocked or dismayed as L.A. Times writer Swati Pendley. I'll admit that ten might be a bit young for movies like The Strangers or The Devil's Rejects, but I can also vividly remember going to the movies to see the gore-drenched Robocop with my best friend. I was 12 years old, and it was the first violent R-rated movie I had ever seen on my own.
I happen to think that 12 is an OK age for just about any horror flick, although you might want to add a year or two if the kid is particularly sensitive. I also don't have a problem with the fact that we got in to see that movie on our own despite being under 17. So I guess I fall somewhere in the middle here. This is a borderline age range we're talking about here; 10 and 11 is a bit young, but 13 and 14 is certainly old enough. I think most would agree--at least those who actually remember when they were 13 and 14.
The study found that the majority of the 12.5 percent is made up of 1.) boys (predictably), 2.) minorities (not sure of the causality here, but the stat could be linked to lower on-average education and a higher rate of broken families), and 3.) kids whose parents don't restrict what they watch (duh).
Bottom line, and it' been said so often that it's a tiresome cliche, but parents need to monitor what their children watch. If your kid is going to see a certain movie, you should know about it. Maybe even more importantly in these times, if your kid is buying/renting/downloading a certain movie, you should know about it. Particularly if said child isn't even in middle school yet. In the end, it's the parents' call--but parents need to be making that call, one way or the other.
Until the cusp of pre-teen/teen, Hammer was about as gory as it got for me--and that's how I plan to keep it for my kids, too. By the seventh or eighth grade, as far as I'm concerned, bring on The Evil Dead, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Cannibal Holocaust (OK, maybe not Cannibal Holocaust).
It should be said that the Dartmouth study extrapolated statistics from a research group of 6,500 children, and focused on a specific group of 40 films released between 1998 and 2002--from horror like Blade to non-horror like Training Day. Generally, more of these kids were seeing these movies on DVD than any other way.
Some may think it's tough to keep track of kids these days with movies being as accessible as they are. But if you ask me, in this age of parental websites in which ratings are fully explained and movies exhaustively broken down blow by blow, it's really easier than ever for parents to know what they're kids are watching. Then again, get back to me in about four or five years. Hopefully I have the same answer.