Alvin Poussaint, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Media Center for Children at Boston's Judge Baker Children's Center, says that, "The risks faced by children allowed to watch films meant for adults are as real as those from alcohol, tobacco, or abuse." Poussaint writes about the same type experience of being in an R-rated movie in which a small child in front of him was obviously disturbed by the graphic nature of the movie. He feels that if fifteen and sixteen-year-olds are not allowed to go into a movie because of its content, then a 6-year-old should never be in such a film. He also said that after he noticed the child in the theater, he started also noticing that many of the patrons were unaccompanied children who were obviously not 17 years old. The solution that Poussaint gives is for Congress to make a law that prohibits children under 13 from entering R-rated films no matter who is accompanying them. Along with this law, he hopes that it would enforce the existing law banning under 17 from attending without a guardian.
There are two arguments against the views of Poussaint. The first is the idea that the movie ratings cannot serve as the "surrogate parent." To this argument he agrees that parents should take the responsibility of supervising their children, but unfortunately many parents do not, and many do not realize the negative effects that movies can have. Poussaint goes on to discuss some findings from studies that show that when children see violence and sexual situations, they begin to feel that those are normal ways of life. He also sites such reactions as begging parents to go home, hiding their faces, becoming fearful at home, and even thumb sucking or bed wetting. He goes on to point out that other situations such as physical or sexual abuse, and living in a war zone will bring out these actions in a child, so why would any parent knowingly cause these reactions.
Another argument against his stance is that it would infringe on the rights under the First Amendment. Poussaint argues back that it is not true because filmmakers would still have to right to produce their films and that the protection of children is more important than protecting their right to be "exposed to any and all forms of free speech." He also reminds readers that we currently have laws that would seemingly infringe on the First Amendment: the law prohibiting the selling of adult magazines, alcohol, and tobacco to children.
Created by Wendy Simons
Last updated December 3, 1998