Remember a while back when I was trying to convince my friends to write Perspectives for NPR? Well, I actually did, but it was "respectfully declined". Maybe a bit too controversial—who knows? Not to let it go to waste...
Going to the movies used to be the safest unsupervised outing a parent could agree on with their preteen or teenage child. These days many movie complexes are located inside malls, with security guards and the reassuring presence of a Macy’s and a Wetzel’s Pretzels. Malls have become the new downtown centers of many modern cities, which provide the closest approximation of the nostalgic, store-lined main streets of the somewhat distant past. For parents who want to allow their kids to develop that crucial sense of independence while still providing as much safety as possible, a trip to the mall with friends to cruise the food court and see a movie seems like a good option. As much as this setting may provide parents with a reasonably sufficient sense of security, I wonder how many parents consider the content of what their children are imbibing in their absence.
Certainly parents are concerned about preventing drug and alcohol use, but what about the terror that intoxicates children as part of today’s typical moviegoing experience? Rating systems be darned— horror movies have become such a widespread staple in the moviegoing demographic’s diet, many parents fail to recognize the impact the terrifying sights and sounds have on their children. The brain’s chemical response to terror and its effect on a person’s physical and psychological wellbeing has been identified and supported by research. The effect is even more intense on children, as their brains are in a delicate state of development. We know that shocks to their psychological system have an intense impact on their ability to concentrate, to feel secure and calm, and to interact effectively in the social world.
We have abstinence and safer sex programs for our teenagers, alcohol and drug abuse interventions, and even gaming addiction awareness, why is there no concern about the domestic terror rolling out daily in our seemingly safest harbors? Is our society so bereft of meaningful rites of passage to mark the advent of adulthood that learning to accept and embrace fear, anxiety, and horror has become the required training to be an adult American? Parents of youngsters may do well by their children to reconsider the activities they allow for “entertainment” and remember that our children’s mental safety is equally important as their physical safety.