This weekend, I went to see American Sniper. While I had mixed thoughts on the movie, there was one thing I was completely sure of: this R-rated film about "the most lethal sniper in U.S. history" was definitely not appropriate for children. So naturally, I was baffled to find two toddlers seated in front of me. (As if the violent story wasn't bad enough, this was also a late showing that wouldn't get out until past midnight, but that's a discussion for another time.) As I expected would happen, the young kids spent much of the time shouting, shrieking, and generally ruining the experience for everyone else in the theater. And when they weren't making noise, I imagine they were actually watching the graphic film—which is probably even worse, come to think of it.
Some people justify bringing their underage kids to R-rated movies by saying that they alone know what their kid can handle. That argument makes sense to me when you're talking about slightly older, more mature kids, but c'mon, can you really make that argument for a toddler or preschooler? Research has consistently shown that children who are frequently exposed to violent media are at risk of behaving aggressively later on. In addition, disturbing scenes might cause nightmares or emotional trauma. (I still vividly remember how freaked out I was after walking in on my dad watching Hitchcock's Vertigo when I was a kid. And honestly, it wasn't that creepy of a scene!) Even babies, while they may not be able to understand the plot, are still able to pick up on the emotional tone—fear, anger, pain, etc—of what you're watching. The bottom line: it's simply not okay for little ones to see these types of programs yet.
This seems logical to me, yet I still frequently come across young kids seeing grown-up movies in the theaters. I get it that parents need a night out sometimes, and it can be tough to find a babysitter. And I also get that sometimes tired moms and dads want to watch something besides animated family flicks. But when it really comes down to it, your child's emotional and mental well-being should come first. If you're itching to see a film that's just not age-appropriate for your kid, you either need to find someone else to watch her, or you should skip it this time. Being a parent involves a lot of sacrifices, and missing out on a movie is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. You can always add it to Netflix later on!
Chrisanne Grise is an editorial assistant at Parents. While she doesn't have kids of her own yet, she is the proud mom of a corgi puppy. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.
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