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Indecent exposure (feature story)

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Kathmandu, June 24, 2016: Aparna Karki confesses to often taking her four-year-old son to the cinemas, and not only to animated ones or movies fit for children. Recently, she took him along to watch Udta Punjab despite it being rated an adult film. In her defense, she says her son Arnav simply refuses to stay at home when she and her husband get ready to go to the movies.

“I think Arnav has watched almost all the movies my husband and I have watched in the past year or two because he always tags along with us,” says Karki adding she has no other option but to take him with her because she and her husband are huge movie buffs who make it a point to watch almost every new release.

It’s a scenario all too common at movie theatres in the capital. Parents are often seen dragging their young kids along to movies not meant for younger audiences. While the issue can’t be policed by anyone else but the parents and ultimately the choice is up to them as to what they approve of for their children, the cause for concern is that young minds might not be ready to filter the adult content.

Roshan Adiga, chief operating officer at QFX Cinemas, says he often sees parents letting their children watch violent or adult content with the thought that their children aren’t affected by the violence or profanity or are too young to understand it all. Adiga says that though QFX Cinemas doesn’t sell tickets of A-rated movies to children, they can’t do much when parents bring along infants and toddlers.

“Our operations officers at the venue do inform these customers that they aren’t allowed to bring in small kids. But many times people claim that they didn’t know and there is nothing they can do now that the movie is about to begin and simply take the kids inside the hall,” says Adiga.

Everything that children see or hear early on in their lives affects them in some way or the other later on. Keeping that in mind parents should limit children’s exposure to violent acts. Unfortunately, violence is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Be it a Salman Khan flick that even kids insist on watching or issue based movies like Airlift and Udta Punjab, violence is all to pervasive in movies these days.

If, despite the rating, parents have made the decision to allow their children to view adult content, there must be some rationale behind it. But, more often than not, it seems to be the simple fact that these people want to watch a particular movie and there is no one to babysit their children while they go out. While doing so what escapes many people’s minds is that they are acting to their child’s detriment.

Is there really a problem with children being exposed to sex and violence at an early age? Does it really affect them and how, one might wonder? According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, prolonged exposure to violence instills the idea that violence is an acceptable way of solving problems. It also promotes acceptance, especially in children, of the “mean world” syndrome: A belief that the world is a dark and sinister place.

“If children start to think violence is normal behavior, it’s difficult to change this mindset later on in life,” explains Alisha Bhattarai, psychologist at Nepal Academy of Psychology. This is similar to studies of domestic violence where children who are exposed to violence either become offenders or victims because they believe what they are exposed to is the norm.

“Children lose their sense of right and wrong when they see violence on screen and can’t justify those actions,” adds Bhattarai. She explains that the best thing to do would be to not allow kids to watch mature content and in cases where they are exposed to it, the parents need to explain the context to them so as to make sure they understand its implications.

According to a study by Children’s Hospital Boston, early onset of sexual activity among teens may relate to the amount of adult content they were exposed to during their childhood. Researchers found that the earlier children are exposed to content intended for adults in television and movies, the earlier they become sexually active during their adolescence.

Bhattarai agrees with these findings and also says she sees a lot of young patients with behavioral issues like anger, fear etc. and it mostly stems from what they were visually exposed to at an early age. She says parents don’t realize the psychological ramifications of allowing kids to view content not suitable for their age.

“There is a reason why we use the term ‘age appropriate’ and parents should understand that young minds are malleable and quite a bit of information is being retained subconsciously. A lot of things are beyond a young minds’ grasp, especially violence, sex, betrayal etc. that are portrayed in movies,” says Bhattarai.

This is why movies are rated. While some movies under the rating of Parental Guidance can be viewed by kids as long as their parents explain certain violent parts to them, movies rated ‘A’ or ‘R’ are simply unfit for younger audiences. Yet, kids end up becoming regular cinemagoers because their parents seem to enjoy watching movies.

To tackle the issue, Adiga confesses there could be stricter implementation of the policies in the cinema halls itself. Though QFX Cinemas has a policy of not allowing kids into adult movies, like Adiga explained before, they can’t deny entry to someone who has a ticket and comes in carrying a child.

However, if parents aren’t acting responsibly, then maybe the cinema authorities could step in and take the matter into their own hands. Adiga says that they have given the matter considerable thought also because they have received many complaints from customers regarding kids screaming and wailing when they are scared.

“We request parents not to bring small kids to movies with mature content but not everybody listens,” laments Adiga. However, he admits they have not been stern and that something could be done about it. “We’ll look into it. Perhaps cinema halls could start by putting notices like the ‘no smoking’ and ‘turn off your mobile phone’ ones. That way, people can’t say they didn’t know they shouldn’t bring kids to adult movies. It might sound like a lame thing to say but many parents are genuinely perplexed,” he says.

Though movies alone can’t be blamed for desensitization to violence, it plays a significant role in how the young minds are being shaped. And with special effects becoming more and more graphic in movies, maybe it’s time to leave kids behind when you go to the cinemas. Granted that, as Archana says, not everyone has the luxury of being able to leave their kids at home but in that case, as Bhattarai points out, maybe it’s time to realign your priorities.

 

By Cilla Khatry