R-Rated Movies: How Young Is Too Young?
by Ken Evans
April 15, 2008
There is something very wrong going on at our local theaters across the nation. However, the theater is where this problem is cultivated and not where it begins. The origin of this atrocity starts in our homes, the moment a decision to go see a certain film is made; when parents make the choice to see an R-rated movie in the theater and bring their underage child. Over the last two years I have seen a major increase of underage children in R-rated films and I can't keep quiet any longer. This issue must be addressed.
I'm not bringing up this issue because I think anyone under the age of 17 shouldn't be allowed admittance to the R-rated film. On the contrary, I believe that to a certain extent, that decision should be left up to the parents or guardian. As it stands now, the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) defines an R-rated movie and their suggestions regarding such films as follows:
An R-rated motion picture, in the view of the Rating Board, contains some adult material. An R-rated motion picture may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements, so that parents are counseled to take this rating very seriously. Children under 17 are not allowed to attend R-rated motion pictures unaccompanied by a parent or adult guardian. Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures.
They have come up with a fine definition with which I have no problems. What I want to focus on is the last section where they say: "Parents are strongly urged to find out more about R-rated motion pictures in determining their suitability for their children. Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures." Two key points are brought up by the MPAA here. They highly urge parents to learn more about the movie before they decide to take their kids, and they say that overall it probably isn't a good idea to take younger children to an R-rated film. These are great suggestions which don't seem to be followed, at least not in the films I have been seeing.
Do most parents spend any time researching a movie before taking their kids to see it? I highly doubt it. If they did, would they knowingly subject their 1 to 11 year old children to the violence and sex that is in most of these R-rated films? In today's day and age, it shouldn't be hard to at least get some sense of what content is going to be in the movie they are considering seeing. Spending just 5 minutes online learning about a movie could save the child from seeing something that they shouldn't see. That research might also save the audience from having to endure the presence of an underage kid while watching a film they paid to see.
Like I already said, in most cases the decision should be left up to the parent. Hopefully the parents have a good relationship with their kids and have an understanding of their maturity level. I don't think it's my place to tell a parent who brings their 14, 15, or 16 year old that their child shouldn't be watching an R-rated film. I just always assume that the parent knows what that kid can handle and what would be too much for them at their age. However, I also believe that that line can and has been crossed when I'm sitting next to a 5 or 8 year old while watching Good Luck Chuck or Sweeney Todd.
For those who didn't see The Heartbreak Kid or Good Luck Chuck, they are extremely raunchy comedies. They are filled with adult situations, numerous scenes with graphic nudity, and lots of sexual innuendo in the dialogue. My problem isn't with those films, but with the fact that I was sitting next to some parent who had decided to bring their 8 year old daughter with them for the screening of Good Luck Chuck. Not only were the parents totally fine with their daughter being there, but the agency hosting the screening was giving out beverage holders and t-shirts to many children anywhere from 7 to 12 years old. They actually brought the kids to the front of the theater to give them their prizes.
I felt distracted and uncomfortable during the whole movie knowing that there was this 8 year old child next to me. The parents were laughing away while this young girl just sat their watching without any kind of response. Some might not be bothered by this situation, but for me and many others, it is shocking. Numerous times after movies finish, I hear other people talking about this same issue. Statements like, "Did you see those little kids in the audience?" or "How could parents let their kids see that kind of movie?" It's not just me that's experiencing this and having a problem with it, is it?
The problem isn't just that it's distracting having really young children in the theater. It's also the problems that come with having little kids in the audience. During the showing of Sweeney Todd, the mother of a 9 year old girl sitting to my left had to keep getting up and leaving during the movie. Afterward she apologized for her having to walk in front of me at least three times. She explained by saying that her daughter kept getting scared. I had even noticed while the movie was playing the girl was covering her eyes. Even the little girl had an understanding that she shouldn't be watching Sweeney Todd. The mother should have known this and decided not to come in the first place.
As bad as my experience was during Sweeney Todd, it only got worse. Later that year I had another experience during a showing of Aliens vs Predator: Requiem. This time some parents not only brought their 4 year old, but also their 10 month old baby! The baby started crying and every time the dad would get up to take the baby out in the hall, his 4 year old would get up and run out to follow. This pattern probably repeated a total of 10 times during the course of the movie. This was actually a movie I had paid to see since their wasn't a press screening. It's like these parents only think about themselves and don't realize the impact they might have on the audience by bringing their underage children.
Something has to be done for the sake of the other people in the theater. We pay to see these movies and expect a carefree and enjoyable experience for that price. Even during free screenings, the audience is paying with their time, having possibly already stood in line for at least two hours. Audience distractions aside, I believe that there are just some kids that are too young to see these R-rated films. There needs to be some system in place to safeguard these kids from parental disregard for the wellbeing of the child. Not to mention the need to protect whoever might sit next to one of these kids from an uncomfortable theater experience.
Unfortunately I don't have the answer for a system needs to be in place. Perhaps further defining the MPAA's statement, "Generally, it is not appropriate for parents to bring their young children with them to R-rated motion pictures," might help. How are we supposed to define "young children?" Perhaps keeping the 17-and-older rule but only allowing 14 to 16 year olds in with a parent or guardian, while anyone younger then 14 isn't admitted no matter what.
Am I the only one who has experienced these situations and the awkwardness of sitting next to one of the young kids during an R-rated movie? Am I the only one that not only feels like the theaters need to do something but that these parents have no regard for others in the audience or their own kids?