Exposing children to adult media, especially at inappropriate stages of their development, comes with dangerous consequences. Many popular movies that are alluring to families due to their titles, posters, and other marketing elements are totally inappropriate. One current and particularly egregious example is Ted 2. It may have a teddy bear on the movie’s poster, but it is a raunchy R-rated “adult” movie.
Children are more at risk of confusion, depression, and inappropriate behaviors due to lack of boundaries related to what is healthy for children given the development of their brains. Fortunately, user-friendly resources can carefully guide parents, guardians, and those in loco parentis through the morass of dangerous elements. Careful research studies, parent guides, and detailed media reviews that factor in child development and age-appropriateness are easily available online. Those who supervise children must take time to access information that will help them guide children to develop healthfully, especially with children’s easy access and exposure to detrimental, inappropriate media through an array of current technologies.
Many popular movies and television programs have elements of violence, language, and adult situations that are not appropriate for children. Children under 7 or 8 are especially at risk because in most cases they have not yet developed their own consciences and have difficulty discerning fantasy from reality.
Research has provided evidence that over-exposure of children under 7 or 8 to television and other technology has been correlated to attentional problems, as well as cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate (Small 2008, Pagini 2010). Parents and guardians need to be more vigilant, knowledgeable, and careful today in their supervision as they guide children through various stages of development.
Dr. Ted Baehr, “founder and publisher of the family-friendly Movieguide®,” joined with Elizabeth Shea Bolger to present evidence that violence, sexual behavior, and crude humor in children’s movies has been psychologically detrimental to children. This content desensitizes young children and encourages them to imitate these behaviors.
“The young audience viewing these movies is not able to properly discern and maturely process the adult content inserted,” said Baehr and Bolger. “Instead, such exposure triggers the recognition memory, sensory memory, and mirror neuron system, resulting in both the acceptance and imitation of such behavior … One of the most present elements of adult content in animated children’s films is crude humor. The dirty jokes, words, and actions of certain characters in these films make children more aware and comfortable with such humor and later mirror this type of behavior at school and at home.”
Aggression and violence are constantly in the media, and children are being exposed to it at an increasing rate. 52% of kids have had trouble sleeping or eating after watching a scary movie or television program. Television exposure and total media exposure in adolescence are associated with increased odds of depressive symptoms in young adulthood, especially in young men. Research suggests that exposure to violence can lead to anxiety and fear, acceptance of violence as an appropriate means of solving conflict, and desensitization. These traits then lead to increases in aggression and decreases in kindness, caring, and giving.
Further, exposure to inappropriate sexual images can lead to early sexual experimentation that is dangerous for youth. Through a gradual desensitization process, older children become more involved in conversations about or experimentation with sex at a younger age. Research proves that children who watch feature films with sexual content have a tendency to start having sex at a younger age, have more casual sexual partners, and engage in unsafe sexual practices.
More and more children are left unsupervised and without appropriate boundaries for their own stable and healthful development. However, if parents and guardians will take the time to research how to best guide children, they can find valuable resources online to assist them in the healthy navigation of those in their care.
Written by Diane Howard, Ph.D. (Performance Studies), dianehoward.com