Thursday, March 8, 2012

Project X gets an "F"

As someone working to reduce underage drinking, the release of a movie like "Project X" gives me cause for concern. (If you are unfamiliar with the storyline, there is a summary of the movie on Wikipedia at Now, I understand that we cannot shelter our teens from everything, but I wonder if today's parents stop to wonder about the sheer volume of movies and other media that glorify binge drinking, misogyny, risky sexual behavior, and drug use that our kids are routinely exposed to.

Parents are faced with choices when their teens ask to go see a movie with friends...they can say no, they can allow it, or they can to go with them to the movie. When making this decision, I hope parents consider the following:

1) There is quite a bit of evidence that exposure to violence in the media increases violent behavior in youth. There is also a growing body of evidence that shows that exposure to drinking in movies increases the likelihood that youth will engage in underage drinking. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal concludes that reducing the amount of exposure to alcohol marketing and alcohol use in movies would significantly reduce the likelihood that a youth would either begin drinking, or escalate their behavior if they have already experimented with alcohol. (You can read the paper on this at

2) Discussing family values and guidelines can actually increase the bonds between parent and child when done in a non-confrontational way. Taking the opportunity to discuss why you have reservations about your son or daughter seeing the movie can help them get a clearer understanding of what your hopes and dreams for them are. When we do not have explicit discussions about what we believe healthy behaviors are, our kids guess what we believe. Many times they view our silence on a subject as an indication that we condone the behavior.

3) Underage drinking is not an inevitable fact of growing up in the US today. There are still many teens who choose to wait until they are of legal age to try alcohol. With new imaging technology that allows us to understand human brain development better, we know that binge drinking by teens can cause damage to their still maturing brains (and other organs, like the liver, too). It has been repeatedly shown that delaying the onset of alcohol use makes it much less likely that dependency will be an issue as an adult. Explaining this to your children CAN make a difference in their decision to drink or not to drink, as does monitoring their behavior.

4) We are facing a huge epidemic of problem drinking amongst our younger generations. As I have written before, Maine is one of the states with the highest rates of binge drinking across the age-span. The toll on this young generation is likely to be profound. In order to avoid unwanted heartbreak and suffering, as well as increased public expense to deal with the consequences, we should act to prevent more young people from engaging in this behavior.

Engaging your children around the topics of substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and violence can be tricky.  Perhaps this movie will provide parents with a way to open the conversation.  If you decide to talk to your children about Project X, we would love to hear how it went!

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