Saturday, September 15, 2007

What to do about scary movies on airplanes

A few weeks ago I was interviewed for an article (see the New York Times, September 1, 2007, p. A1) about how some children are being traumatized by the movies that are being shown on airplanes. Apparently many airlines have relaxed their standards and are now showing R-rated, violent movies, even though it means that many children will not be able to avoid seeing violent images. Violent movies like "Shooter" and "Fracture" have recently been shown. Many parents reported that their children were extremely anxious after seeing only a few images and some ended up tending to their children's nightmares afterwards.

My own research confirms that children can be extremely scared by pictures seen only briefly, especially those that are intensely violent or show creepy images or characters with distorted features. And often the resulting anxiety and sleep disturbance can drag on for weeks, months, and even years.

What's a parent to do when you're stuck at 30,000 feet and your the images are thrust in your child's face? Blindfold him? Spend the entire flight distracting her?

One parent mentioned in the article has started a web site,, to advocate Federal legislation to restrict violence shown on airline flights. He has created an online petition that starts with the sentence:

"We demand that the United States Congress act immediately to put an end to un-rated and violent films being shown to children on commercial flights operating in United States airspace. " (Movies shown on planes do not receive Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) ratings. They are edited by separate companies for in-flight use.)

Given the high stakes for children's well-being and mental health, I think it's very important that we find ways to protect children from being ambushed by these images. But is Federal legislation the way to go? Would such a solution be too harsh and unfairly limit the viewing of other passengers? Are there other ways to protect children that would work in this situation? I'm interested in hearing what other people think about this.

I look forward to your comments.


WJ Yan said...

Joanne, first, big congratulations to you on your new blog! Keep at it! :) With regard to the issue of scary movies on airplanes, I think the parent's suggestion is understandable, thinking from a dad or mom's perspective. While, that's not an issue solely related to regulations or policies; I can see there are a lot of interests, of various parties, getting intertwined. Meanwhile, I noticed that an increasing number of individual movie screens on the airplanes had been replaced with several single big ones as the oil price increased. Probably we want to get back as before, providing a separate movie viewer for each passenger, including children. This may not be the best solution, but at least our parents and children can have a say in terms of what they want to watch. And their right of choice can thus be better realized.

Gayathri said...

I guess this will be one of those situations where you can't please everybody. From the average persons point of view, it can be argued that the passenger has the right to see any film that appeals to him or her. The airline industry will argue that it has to please its consumers or loose business and the parent is quite right in arguing that this move hurts their kids. The possible solution would perhaps be to divide passengers into two section based on what kind of programming they want to watch and cater to their needs. However I don't know if the airline industry will find this solution viable. Great blog, Joanne....enjoyed reading it.