Children under 14 should be barred from access to violent films and video games, online content, and music, period. Right now, kids can download music or shows that celebrate rape and murder, adults can bring toddlers in to R-rated movies depicting people getting shot in the face, and kids can play violent slasher video games online at will, damaging our kids (especially our boys) and perpetuating our thug culture. It’s got to stop. And the way to stop it is by keeping kids away from this stuff. We can do it if we decide we want to do it.
Under our current ridiculously lax movie rating system, “PG-13” means parents are advised that the film may not be appropriate for kids. Yet a ten year old sees the rating as enticing and can legally walk right in. “R” means a kid is supposed to get in only with a parent or “adult guardian” so a twelve year old can entreat his eighteen year old cousin — if the theater is even enforcing the rating to begin with — and in he goes. Most of us are used to attending adult-themed movies with scores of kids seated around us cheering for knife fights and beheadings. Am I the only one squirming and thinking, Why are kids in here?
Germany is considering restricting access to adult-themed films to children under 12, and we too should keep our kids out. According to one study, 2.5 million children aged 10-14 watch R rated movies in America yearly, more than 12% of kids. Some gruesome horror movies, such as Blade, Hollow Man and Bride of Chucky have had child audiences up to eight million.
Can anyone tell me what is gained from ten year olds watching acts of butchery and slaughter (other than million of dollars in profits for the giant media companies that produce these films)? By the time the average American kid starts kindergarten he’s watched eight thousand murders and one hundred thousand acts of on screen violence. Is there anything good about that?
Because here’s what’s lost:
- On screen carnage scares the crap out of normal, emotionally healthy kids, giving them nightmares, confusing and traumatizing them.
- Many studies show that violent images desensitize children, meaning that they lose their natural aversion to mayhem and come to accept people punching and shooting each other as a normal, even “cool” reaction to anger.
- Children who watch R rated movies are more likely to be fight, drink alcohol, do drugs and be promiscuous.
- The United States has 19 times the rate of gun violence of other affluent countries. We have the highest rate of incarceration in the entire world, or in human history.
Kids who listen to today’s rap music suffer from the same problems, becoming more accepting of aggression, bloodshed, and misogyny. As I show in my book Swagger, two out of three of the top-selling rap songs today celebrate violence (especially gun violence and beating up or murdering gay men), rape (including rape of little girls), and illegal drug use. The parental advisories on CD packaging have become meaningless as most music is purchased online.
But it’s up to the parents, you may say. If only all our kids were blessed with moms and dads who carefully monitored their video games, who listened to the lyrics in their music and led thoughtful discussions about them, who shielded them from age-inappropriate gory films. We live in the real world, though, and millions of our kids are watching and listening to this stuff, absorbing the message that manhood equals thugdom, and that shooting your rival is a satisfying solution to conflict.
Movie ratings should ban kids under 14 from entering films with violent scenes. Theaters should be required to check ID and to enforce the ban. Online providers of movies, TV shows, or music with offensive lyrics should require age verification before they make a sale, as porn sites are required to do. Will some wily kids still sneak in to movies, and get past online verifications? Sure. But this would keep many kids away from age-inappropriate violent images, and would be an enormous improvement over the current system.
We don’t let parents decide that it’s okay to let their kids watch pornography. Why not? Because we’ve correctly decided as a culture that sexually explicit films are harmful to children’s development. And sex (ideally) is a normal, healthy human activity. A bazooka to the face is not. Why do we ban our kids from the former but not the latter?
We must take seriously that we live in the most violent culture in the developed world, and stop desensitizing our kids to it. Let’s let them believe that violence is scary and awful for as long as possible. Because it is.