April 26, 2010
R-rated movies and child corruption
A recent study found that kids who are allowed to watch R-rated movies are a lot more likely to start drinking at younger ages. The researchers surveyed middle school kids, asking them whether their parents let them watch R-rated movies or not, then surveyed the same kids again two years later and asked if they'd started drinking yet. Only 3% of kids who were never allowed to watch R-rated movies drank, compared to a Goldschlager-chugging 25% of kids who were allowed to watch R-rated movies "all the time".
One of the researchers said the data suggests that it's the R-rated movies themselves that lead kids to drink: "seeing the adult content actually changes their personality."
What it says to me is that, for better or worse, kids with more permissive parents end up drinking sooner than kids with more restrictive parents. But I wonder about those kids who aren't actually allowed to watch R-rated movies, but sneakily figure out how to watch them anyway. Which is probably most kids in the 10-14 age range, especially the ones with HBO. Do they get into even worse stuff than the kids whose parents let them watch some R-rated movies and maybe let them have a little wine at special events? What are those sneaky kids doing by the time they get to 9th grade? Snorting mescaline and watching snuff films?
Using myself as a test case, I thought back to the first R-rated movie I ever saw. Because we're talking about the '80's here, my first experiences were all horror. I watched about half of Children of the Corn at age 11 at a neighborhood party in the TV room where the kids were hanging out. Probably none of the parents there knew their kids were watching it. It could have been a pretty subversive viewing experience, considering I was in a roomful of preteens at a grown-up party watching a movie about kids killing all the adults in town, but unfortunately, it's a pretty terrible movie. Not actually good enough to be subversive. I left the room when things started to get heavy, human-sacrifice-wise.
The first one I watched all the way through was The Howling, a much better movie, at around age 13. This is a great first R-rated horror movie for a kid to see: it's equal parts cool, scary, and ridiculous, and plays out like an investigative conspiracy movie with Dee Wallace as a reporter accidentally mixed up with a colony of werewolves. I loved it. No kind of parental permission was involved in watching this one, either.
Then shortly after that, some friends and I sneaked into a movie theater showing Action Jackson, an awful movie that made a lot of money and didn't quite destroy Carl Weathers' career. I loved sneaking into the theater, but hated the movie. Things got a lot better with repeated, obsessive viewings of The Lost Boys on video.
Even though my parents didn't actually give me permission to watch any of these movies, they definitely let me drink a little bit at summer parties and the odd holiday dinner. I wonder what happens to kids who watch higher quality R-rated movies than I happened to see? If a 12 year-old watches Fargo and Chinatown, will they actually start drinking at a later age because they're more likely to turn into film geeks and spend their Saturday nights staying in and watching TCM?
What was your first R-rated movie? Did it corrupt you?
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