Are We Hypocritical About What Our Kids Watch?

Since most of us are kids of the 80’s – which was really a golden era for watching movies at home as a family, especially with the rise of the VHS player and video stores – we got to wondering: What’s the entertainment experience really like for our children today vs. what we had?

Some of the obvious answers are, of course, accessibility. Kids can watch their favorite TV shows on their tablet or laptop no matter where they are; they can DVR four programs at once; and if they want to see a certain movie, it’s right there on demand.

But what about content? Sure back then movies were family affairs...but didn't that mean we watched content that wasn't necessarily meant for kids? Didn't we watch R rated films earlier than we allow our own kids to?

Looking at some of our 80’s favorites that we watched AS A KID and what Common Sense Media has to say, you may be surprised about the maturity of the movies you watched:

Airplane!: sexuality, violence, racial stereotyping, substance abuse (sniffing glue, snorting cocaine), sexual innuendo, sexual sight gags, pedophilia, suicide, occasional bad language (including "ass," "s--t," "crap," "pisser”)

Breakfast Club: suicide, depression, child abuse, sex, drug abuse, strong language (including dildo, beaver shot, slut, f--k, s--t, bitch, prick, scumbag)

Flashdance: bare breasts and buttocks on display, strong language (including "c--t" and "f--k"), a foot massage to a man’s groin

Grease: obscene finger gesture, strong language (including "ass," "crap," "flog your log"), profane song lyrics (including "t-t," "s--t," and "p---y wagon”), broken condoms, teen pregnancy, peeking up skirts, and mooning.

Gremlins: Gremlins gruesomely kill people and vice versa.

Sixteen Candles: teen sex, underage drinking, date rape, vulgar language (including f--k and s--t)

We interviewed several parents and one thing that came up time and again was they had forgotten how much more racy and mature the so-called kids’ movies they loved as youngsters were. And yet, each and everyone is convinced that today’s content is far worse.

So what’s the deal? Have we become stricter than our parents were or is there really cause for worry? Read on, think about your childhood faves, and judge for yourself.

Weird Science, 1985

80’s Kids Watched “Mature” Content Yet Were More Innocent…

“I think I did watch more mature content with my family as a child of the 80’s – but I also had 2 older brothers. I remember watching Grease and asking what “knocked up” meant. Or Airplane and asking some pretty wild questions there too. My brothers would laugh but I never understood. I remember being terrified of Gremlins, much more than our girls are today. I do think the content back then was more limited, but I am super careful to censor what my kids are watching.

“The channels today are so oversaturated with movies and shows which portray kids acting much older than we did, that I try to limit it as much as possible and keep to kids’ shows. There will be plenty of time for them to watch sexy or racy movies, but for now, we avoid inappropriate content. I think in today’s society where sex is more prevalent on billboards, magazine covers, racy music videos, etc., kids see enough sex. Let’s keep it to a minimum with their screen time.”

– Kristen Hewitt, Miami, FL.
Reporter for the Miami HEAT on Fox Sports

This Is the Era of “No Filter”…

“At age 34, I was a child of the 80’s. I have a 5 year-old daughter and a 16 year-old as well. They watch content that’s very different than I used to watch. When I was a kid, the highlight of the week was to rent a movie from Blockbuster or a local movie store. Movies like Harry and the Hendersons, Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, and more were staples in my home.

“Now, my teenager has seen about every movie you can imagine. And quite frankly, it’s difficult to keep up with what she’s watching.

“As for my little one… well, she’s exposed to less than I was at her age. We do watch movies together, but these are usually Pixar and things of that nature.

“However, I should also add that I’m a former 4th and 5th grade teacher. And I can tell you that I learned that the average kid watches just as much “inappropriate” content as we did in the 80’s, if not more. Any kid with a log-in can go into Netflix and watch grotesque movies like Human Centipede or whatever else… No filter.”

– Chris Brantner, Houston, TX.

Movies Used to Be “Date Night” for Older Kids…

“In the 80’s, movie watching was a bit more of a family affair, or maybe it’s more that content was more limited, but in any case, it seems that we watched more mature content – kids learned about sexuality / sexiness from Flashdance, Weird Science, etc. – we were exposed to real life threats like War Games, and so on.

“It was also a date thing to go out and see a movie, versus now we have Netflix. The movies continue to serve the similar purposes of sexuality, whether it’s Twilight, or war-like behaviors including the Hunger Games, though they’re more for teens and tweens.

And there are still the dance movies and the similar concepts being recycled, perhaps a little more overt. Family outings to the movies still occur, for example with Inside Out and other Disney Pixar films for family fun and engagement.”

– Lisa Bahar, Dana Point, CA
Lisa Bahar Marriage and Family Therapy, Inc.

Happy Days, 1974–1984

It Was Easier to Watch TV with Your Parents in the 80’s…

“I’m a child of the 1980’s (born in 1985) with a 5-year-old child of my own. I think that it was easier to watch TV with my parents than it is to watch TV with my child. Sure, there were movies and shows like Weird Science, but between the stricter FCC guidelines and the amount of sexually-related shows (less amount back then), I think watching TV was easier with my parents. 

“Now, sexuality is everywhere because ‘sex sells.’ Reality TV shows (which have very little reality in them) consist of drama and sex. If I want to watch TV with my child, I can barely watch the Disney channel without seeing scantily-clad teens or hearing ‘stupid’ or ‘idiot’ at least once per show. I’m not strict with my child, but I don’t want this impressionable human to be subject to this type of behavior at a young age. Are ratings for The Disney Channel really going to suffer without the use of ‘stupid’ in their vocabulary?”

– Dan Fuoco, Detroit, MI
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau

Everybody Watched the Same Movies and Shows Together in the 80’s…

“I was 14 in 1986. My best friend, Mona, had HBO and cable. We were huge fans of Pretty in Pink, Breakfast Club, Some Kind of Wonderful, and Top Gun. We had stacks of VHS recordings of TV movies since we knew how to set the timer on the VCR, which was a mystery to our parents.

“Even though VHS rentals were big in the 1980’s, my parent’s preferred shorter fare on the home screen that played to my younger siblings as well. The Muppet Show was a favorite to watch. My mom would make a small celebration of sorts with popcorn, real butter, and apple cider. And we would crowd around the 32” set. But movies with romance and sex were consumed with girlfriends after school in houses with working parents. The ideal guy we figured, was artistic, pretty exciting, humble, and might prefer girls; but also might not.

“Jump forward to 2015 where my ten-year-old scans the selections on Netflix, Amazon, and other VOD sites to download at any-time, classics like Fraggle Rock and Scooby Doo, or in some cases catches a documentary on wild animals through the Smithsonian channel. My 10 year old has also watched graphic films like War Photographer and WWII HD.

“Since I am a film teacher, he’s exposed to a lot of films, especially documentaries, and he has a curiosity to see films from other countries as well. Something that wasn’t available to me until I moved to Boston in the 1990’s and started visiting movie art houses. In our house it isn’t unusual to have everyone on mobile devices screening their own brand of media, while companionably sitting in the family room. On occasion (maybe once a month) we might grab something from Red Box and watch it all together on the 42” screen with 5.1 surround sound, and on the very rare occasion, we might schlep over to the movie theater to catch a flick… and we prefer that movie theater that has beer, pizza, and stadium seating; thank you very much!

“So is my 10 year-old exposed to television sex and violence? Sure, he has seen Top Gun and all my favorite re-watches when I am home curled up on the sofa nursing a head cold. Like comfort food, my 1980’s movies are go-to’s when I am feeling down.

“The thing that hasn’t changed? Even when we are all tuned into different devices sprawled on the couches a few feet away from each other, we are munching on popcorn, real butter, and apple cider, just the way my mom used to make it.

– Monique Anair, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Assistant Professor of Film Production and Media Studies, Santa Fe Community College

Sixteen Candles, 1984

There Are So Many Movies Now, Nothing Has the Impact It Once Did…

“I grew up in the 80’s (born in 1970) and am now the mom of two boys – 14 and 10. Their viewing habits are way different than mine were. I find it sad there are no movies that have had a huge impact on them, the way Flashdance and even Sixteen Candles did for me. We rarely watch movies together; they rarely watch movies. They are more drawn to TV series, old (Seinfeld) and new, and can watch episode after episode of those for hours. The rare times we do watch movies together is when I insist, maybe a few times a year, and it’s one I’ve seen that I want them to feel (Running on Empty, the real Footloose and the like).”

– Erin Mantz, Maryland

Sometimes We Remember Things Through a Rose-Colored Haze…

“I grew up in the 80’s and so remember watching movies like Dirty Dancing, Adventures in Babysitting, and Goonies at a young age. I totally had forgotten how inappropriate they were, and had my four young daughters settle in for a movie night. Started Adventures in Babysitting, only to be shocked about the content! It surprised me how I had forgotten about all of the bad stuff!

“I definitely pay more attention now, and only let my kids watch shows that I am familiar with or that have a PG rating. It’s hard with Netflix though, because all of these movies are so readily available to them. Sometimes it is hard to keep track. I now require my kids to ask me before they start a TV show or a movie.”

– Carly Kerby, Utah
Stay-at-home mom and blogger at

Every Kids Movie Today Has a Media and Retail Tie-In…

“My love for film started as a child in the 80’s. The Goonies, The Neverending Story, and the Indiana Jones trilogy had me hooked for life! I recently purchased a copy of The Neverending Story for my daughter, Lily, in hopes that we could watch it together. Five minutes into the movie, I quickly realized that this kids’ movie covered very adult themes such as bullying, death of a loved one, and persistence in the face of hopelessness.

“Despite the intense way the content was portrayed, I was OK with it. It opened up conversation with my seven year-old in ways that 30 minute Disney Channel sitcoms never could. Some current kids’ shows seem to be created purely as a brand to crank out more branded products. An example is Monster High, which has a clothing line and toys catered to girls under the age of ten. I try to watch TV/movies with my daughter whenever time allows, because I am worried that she will be exposed to the commercialism and feel like she does not have enough stuff.”

– Sarah Gulbrandsen, Victoria, British Columbia
Communications Consultant,

So what's really happening here? Have we become stricter than ever? Do we trust our kids less than our parents trusted us? Or have we just become more mindful of messages peppered in?

When you take a good, hard look at the movies you grow up with… were they really more appropriate for kids than what's out there now? Why or why not?

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