It’s Saturday night and you’re sitting in the latest R-rated blockbuster. It’s full of sex, violence, swearing and all of the other things that make R films great. Suddenly, you look around and see an alarming number of very, very young kids sitting in the crowd. Your first instinct, if you’re like most of the American movie-going public, is to feel anger toward the theater for letting those kids in.
It is popular public opinion to hold movie theaters responsible for the demoralization of this county’s youth. In truth, the problem reaches much deeper than exhibitors.
As an assistant manager at a local movie theater, I have a great deal of experience with hollow admonitions and finger pointing. Where I work, there is clearly posted policy. It states: “No child under the age of six will be admitted to any R-rated film.” There are no exceptions.
There is also a posted policy on admitting minors to R-films. There are only two ways that a minor under the age of 17 can purchase a ticket for an R-film. The first is to be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The second way is if the parent or legal guardian physically comes into the theater with his/her children and signs a permission slip for them in front of the box-office cashier.
However, as the public has noticed, this isn’t keeping kids out of movies. But it’s not because the exhibitor failed. It is because countless parents walk up to the cashier and sign the slip for their kids without a second thought. Cashiers consistently warn these parents that the movie is explicitly violent, sexual, profane or all three.
I’ve issued this stern warning countless times only to have a parent look at their seven- or eight-year-old child and say, “You can handle it, right?” or “Oh it’s fine, he sees all that stuff on TV.” The child always nods affirmatively, and that is the end of their conversation with me.
Of course, there are always kids who sneak in to R-rated films by buying tickets to another movie. The theater takes measures against that, too. Ushers are posted to check tickets at the doors of R-rated films that kids may want to see. This tactic is also completely useless if the child’s parents have bought them legitimate tickets.
But, truthfully, on a busy Saturday night there are usually about 20 employees working at a large theater: four at the box office, 11 in the concession stand, four ushers and management. With hundreds of patrons flooding the theater, many of them children, it is not feasible for the staff to baby-sit every one of them.
Parents need to realize that logistically, it is impossible for the theater to look after their children. Every reasonable step is taken to keep children away from explicit material, but nothing works better than parents actually taking responsibility for their own children.
The Congressional Public Health Summit in 2000 confirmed in a report that young children who see media violence will exhibit anti-social and aggressive behavior, will desire to see more violence in real life and will view violence as a reasonable way to settle conflicts.
Combine this with the American Academy of Pediatrics report from 2001, which states that violence (homicide, suicide and trauma) is a leading cause of death among children, adolescents and young adults. Violence actually kills more kids than disease, cancer and congenital disorders.
There is a long list of staggering statistics about the effects of violence on children. But the idea that children should be kept away from exposure to explicit material is intuitive. However, the intuitive response of anger and blame toward movie theaters is channeled in the wrong direction.
Kate MacDonald (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior majoring in film.