Is exposure to adult content in films actually harmful to young people?

Film ratings have always been a controversial issue. In recent years much of this controversy has centred on the 12A rating: introduced back in 2002 to give parents the freedom to judge the maturity of their own children. Films rated 12A may be seen by any child accompanied by an adult. The rating has obvious appeal to film studios, given that it represents the greatest possible audience. Increasingly, films aimed at teenagers seem determined to push the limits of the 12A rating as far as possible.

What was once deemed extreme is now becoming ordinary. The formerly X-rated Hammer Horror ‘Dracula’ was, when rereleased in cinemas, judged to be 12A by modern standards. The latest film to try and deliver as much adult content as possible under the 12A rating is The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2. The kneejerk reaction of many will be to assume that exposing young people to 12A films encourages, even normalises, violent behaviour and sexual promiscuity.

The fatal blow to this argument is delivered by the facts. Violent crime victimisation rates have seen a decrease of more than 50% since their peak in the nineties. As young people have been exposed to more violent content in films over the past two decades, Britain has become a safer place. There is simply no evidence that seeing Katniss shoot someone makes a young person more violent.

What, then, of sexually suggestive content? Here the same trend is repeated. The conception rate amongst the under eighteens has quite simply never been lower. Since records began there has been a 40% decrease. While there is no overtly sexual content in the film, Katniss’ Mockingjay costumes are, at times, incredibly striking. It seems young people are finding healthy ways to deal with that.

This takes us on to the more psychologically disturbing content of the film. There is one pivotal scene towards the end of Mockingjay which is disturbing even to an adult. Here context is important; the scene is in no way gratuitous and the film deals intelligently with its fallout. Young people process adult content with far greater maturity than they are typically given credit for. It may be argued that exposure to adult content in the context of a narrative is beneficial. It helps young people understand how to deal with a world that is frankly full of sex and violence.

Ours is a world which has lost its naiveté. From rape to genocide, there are atrocities committed every day all over the world. Young people have access to the internet on their phones; they cannot be kept sheltered as they were in the past. They have to grow up fast and films like Mockingjay help them to do that. To pretend that the world is a happy place where the good guys never get hurt is to do a disservice to young people. Cinema is a safe environment where they can instead be taught the truth about human nature. The 12A rating makes that possible.


Michael Everritt

[Image: Facebook/The Hunger Games]

Leave a Reply