Young children, movies and brain development; time for parents to take responsibility.

I often hear students in Years 4-7 talking about the movies they’ve seen. Ted is one that seems to come up a lot. The link is a discussion about how this movie has statistically become a ‘family movie’. In Australia, the rating is MA(15+), whilst in the USA, where the statistics originate, it’s an R. In both nations, under 15s would have to be accompanied by adults and yet, despite the rating, this article reports 18% of cinema goers for Ted, were under 18. It seems parents were swayed by both the cute teddy bear and the ‘Seth McFarlane Factor’. It disappoints me that parents of 10 and 11 year olds are not more swayed by the ratings given to movies, which are based on the assessments of panels of parents from various backgrounds. An R rated movie in the USA is defined as:

R –“Restricted. Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian”: The Rating Board applies this rating to movies the members believe contain a high level of adult content, such as harsh profanity, intense violence, explicit sexual content and extensive drug use.

I am certain, parents of children I have taught over the years, would not dream of exposing their children to live pornography, extreme violence or drug use, and yet they are facilitating and paying for, their children to see it on the big screen, and at home on DVDs and movie downloads.

In their defence, parents may say their offspring hear worse language at school, understand it’s not real, or that they don’t want to be left out of what their friends are doing. (Of all the explanations I hear for friendship issues, not having been allowed to see a movie has never been one of them.) Busy parents may well have to put up with the hassle factor from children, but would they honestly give in to an 11 year old who claims all her friends are drinking vodka? Probably not, because they know that young bodies and brains are not yet developed enough to cope with alcohol. Perhaps they are unaware that the developing brain is much like the body in that it requires healthy, safe and appropriate input to develop normally. Repeated exposure to violence and adult themes, real or fictional, causes stress, conscious or not, to the developing brain. Whilst pre-teens in our multi-media, digital age may seem street-wise, they still have minds which are highly adaptive and therefore will be influenced by what they have experienced most of. This is not to say that they will necessarily emulate what they see, but they will most likely use whatever heuristics of human behaviour come to mind easiest, because that is how the mind works.

I’m not one to rant on my blog, but when I see 11 and 12 year olds at school pretending to smoke joints, making sexual references (and in some cases, gestures) and using wildly inappropriate language, I’m fairly sure that, for the most part, they are not experiencing this from their parents. If parents wouldn’t use extreme language in front of their children, why are they happy to expose them to it through movies?

It may seem puritanical to ‘blame the TV’ for children’s behaviour, but with increasing technology and advances in neuro-science allowing us to understand the brain more, we have to consider what we are feeding our children’s brains as much as, if not more than, what we are feeding their bodies. We can change our diet and exercise, to rid ourselves of the influences of a poor diet; it’s not so easy to change what has negatively influenced our brain.


About vanessa hiser

Primary and Secondary Educator; Academic Psychologist; Counsellor; mother; netballer; lifelong learner.
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