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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Gore Flicks: How Young Is Too Young?

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.


Karl Hungus said...

I think that a hell of a lot of people underestimate children's ability to cope with movie violence, and differentiate between real and imaginary violence.

Honestly, violence is violence no matter how much gore is involved, and children learn from a very young age the difference between what we see onscreen and physical violence through cartoons.

B-Sol said...

YES - which is one of the reasons why I've made it a point to introduce my little ones to the Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, Popeye and all the other great ones from the very beginning.

gord said...

I was 6 when I saw Terminator and it scared the shit out of me. I was in grade 5 when I saw Evil Dead and it also scared the shit out of me. And by 14 or so I'd seen every violent action film under the sun.

Suffice it to say, while I had an over active imagination as a young child, I'm quite alright now. Though I guess my own example is one in a million perhaps.

But I do think 12 is an appropriate age, with proper explanation, warnings, sitting withs, for a child to watch almost anything. That said, the kids I look after occasionally have slowly been being introduced to moderate to light horror with stuff like Gremlins and Jurassic Park. I'm not trying to scare them though, just show them quality, fun, 'real' movies, as (at 10 and 8) all they've seen their whole lives are cartoon films.

Anonymous said...

My parents while being really great parents weren't exactly the monitoring kind and my sister let me watch Jaws 3 when I was five. I also watched movies with my dad and he never censored anything so I saw war movies, westerns and spy flicks from a very tender age where people were often dropping like flies. From there on out I pretty much watched everything I could get my hands on and read it all too. I was the only 4th grader to be reading Stephen King books and for me the books were really worse than the films - whatever you imagine is always worse than what they can show you. And all together even though I am morbid I think I turned out fine.

That being said I'm now a parent with a step son who is 8 and a daughter who is 2. And I know that when I was eight I could handle some pretty heavy stuff but he can't he is more sensitive and gets bothered by things easier. Hell when I was little I was a tom boy and loved snakes and bugs - he on the other hand won't go near them. My two year old is more like me - she's a tom boy and has no fear of anything. So I think you have to weigh it for every child - what is right for one won't be right for another. I think she will be able to handle and will like scary stuff at a younger age than he will.

But the biggest part is to know what they are watching and what they are doing and then evaluate on a case by case basis for that child.

B-Sol said...

My parents were very big horror movie fans when I was a kid, and would rent movies like Evil Dead, Return of the Living Dead, etc. all the time. But they also made it clear to me that I couldn't watch them. I can remember being a little kid and listening to the terrifying sounds coming from the living room downstairs. At the same time, I also grew up in a time when there weren't TV channels specifically targeted at kids, and especially before VCRs, it was a time when kids had to watch whatever the grown-ups were watching. So I did see a lot of "grown-up" movies, however this was at a time before cable, when everything was on regular TV and censored accordingly.

Anonymous said...

RayRay - I was a sensitive child who didn't know his own limits. I always wanted to watch scary movies, and then would have problems sleeping. But I LOVED scary movies. Go figure. Hell, Raiders of the Lost Ark did more damage to me than just about any other movie besides Jaws, which still has affects on my psyche [I will never swim in ANY body of water, even a pool, alone]. I also began reading horror books early, beginning Pet Semetary sometime in the 3rd grade. That was a doozy.

Regarding gore and violence, and even sex, I think the most important thing is that the parents, in addition to being on top of what their kids are watching, be available to explain it, and further, to explain it is an illusion for our entertainment, as well as the context. I remember watching PBS' Masterpiece Theater with my Dad at a very young age [black and white tv], and it was I, Claudius, I think. At that time one character pretty much chained up and slaughtered a woman, but it was all off camera, so you only heard it and saw a third character's reaction. Even so, I was terribly affected, but felt better the next day when it was explained none of it really happened, and that I might even see the actess walking on the street.

Finally, it is ironic, B-Sol, that you are giving the children a diet of Looney Tunes, Tom & Jerry, etc., in order to teach them about violence, when just a few short years ago the incompetents in the industry were busily scrubbing them to limit the violence portrayed.

B-Sol said...

Tell me about it--thankfully, we're talking about the uncut DVD versions here. Incidentally, I was also very curious about horror movies from a very young age, hence my Exorcist story in the right-hand sidebar of this page. As for Raiders, I first saw it in the theaters at age six--and I don't think I ever watched the "melting Nazis" scene with my eyes uncovered for about ten years!

Wes Fierce said...

I believe that a childs exposure to horror and violence in media is mostly irrelevant. The key is being raised by great parents. Married or divorced, the responsibility is still divided equally. I cant speak for those who were missing one or the either during their upbringing, but my parents were married until I was about seven before they divorced.

Like absinthe, my parents were awesome but not really the monitoring type. They would be off working or taking care of the house while I would either play or watch TV. When I watched tv, I watched every movie I could find. The content might have been edited for TV, but it didnt really matter. I knew what was happening whether I saw / heard it or not. I knew the difference between what was real and what wasnt because my parents did a good job raising me, not because they held my hand through every single thing I was exposed to. Which, is a completely unrealistic, and probably unhealthy, way of going about it.

My bestfriend lived next door and both our parents got vcr's about the same time. We would watch every vhs tape we could find, whether our parents wanted us to or not, lol. But, even though it was awhile before we got to pick out the movies, our parents never brought anything around that children shouldnt be watching anyway. When we finally did get to rent our own movies, we always picked out what we thought was the "coolest" because of the awesome cover art, which the majority of was horror. Our parents knew that we knew it was fake, and they knew were cool with it. Obviously we had to run it past them at the video store, but they knew what was up. We were'nt trying to watch content that was'nt appropriate for us because A. it was probably boring to us or B. we were too young to comprehend the themes of any other type of movies. Ghosts and monsters, we understood :) Heck, we dressed up as them once a year every year since we were born anyway!

I think that was the best way to go about it. When I was in fourth grade, I wanted to gather all my friends up to go see Child's Play 2 at the theater, but their parents were'nt down with that. Even though I understood why, I still thought it was dumb. I had been watching horror movies since I was born! One of my first memories ever was watching the debut of Thriller with my aunt who was babysitting me. That was scary as hell! Still is! However, my friends in fourth grade had overprotective parents though and they kind of had alot of problems coping with life in the long run (middle school, high school, etc.)

One of the few horror movies that me and my bestfriend's parents had forbidden us to see was the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. One day we found the tape locked in a cabinet and were so excited to sneak it into the vcr. But, when we hit play we discovered that we had already seen it before somehow and were so disappointed. *sigh* good times.

B-Sol said...

Overprotective is definitely not the way to go, and I believe it does lead to kids that are unprepared for life. They say the best way to deal with kids who are scared of their own shadow is to slowly desensitize them to scary stuff over time.

kindertrauma said...

This subject has come up a lot lately for me. I think horror movies like fairy tales work great as warnings or to remind us that there are consequences to our actions. It's actually healthy to worry for your safety and to realize that the world can turn on you at the drop of a dime. I don't think parents are doing their kids any favors by presenting them a false view of the world where their safety is everybody's top concern. I certainly suffered many a sleepless night as a kid due to things I witnessed on T.V but I'm grateful that I had that time to process and learn how to cope with those feelings. Parents should stop worrying so much about violence and start instilling values in their kids where they learn respect for others and how to think for themselves. Kids can get over a horror movie but when they're spoiled, they're usually spoiled for good.

B-Sol said...

That sums it up for me too. I've always considered horror movies (especially pre-MPAA) as modern day fairy tales, which is how I've always defended showing them to my kids. I want them to know about good and evil, to know that there is bad in this world. I want them to know there is a reason to be afraid, but to also know how to cope with that fear. However, I do think old-school horror flicks accomplish that better for younger kids, rather than more contemporary flicks, with their muddled sense of morality and often sociopathic contempt for good. A lot of kids would have a tougher time digesting that.

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