CLASS ACTION

Why Ted movies are a bad influence on the speech and values of children

It would be a shame if these shallow comedies undid the work Hong Kong has done in making a more equitable society

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 August, 2015, 8:01pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 01 September, 2015, 10:17am

We have recently noticed an outbreak in bad language from some of our younger students. Boys we have known for years and who attend a respected local school have suddenly started using language that would make a sailor blush. One of my teachers managed to find the source of the problem: the children had seen the film Ted 2.

For anyone unfamiliar with the Ted series, the main characters are a foul-mouthed living teddy bear and his hapless sidekick. Together they spend their lives smoking marijuana, fighting and generally being offensive. The films are designed to be funny but contain adult topics and illegal activities.

When I watched the film, I was stunned to see children in the cinema who were between the ages of eight and 11. We learn through copying, and on-screen behaviour that generates laughs in a largely adult audience will be replicated by young viewers who hope for the same reaction from their peers.

During their lives, our children will encounter all kinds of people with different standards and moral codes. Our role as parents and educators is to provide them with the ability to differentiate between what is acceptable and unacceptable. Young people, particularly those speaking English as a second language, may not realise that words have different connotations. I often encounter students using words without recognising that they are swearing. Films like Ted 2, which normalise foul language, only add to the confusion. Assuming that the speakers often do not understand that they are being offensive, we try to focus on the behaviour not the individual, explaining to the group that words have power. Speakers are horrified when they learn that their words alter the way that listeners perceive them. A smaller group deliberately uses foul language to shock. Explaining that their words are hurtful or may be copied by younger children can help them to become more sensitive.

In addition to the foul language, the themes in the Ted films are likely to give younger children a misguided view of normality. Particularly worrying is the constant glorification of drug use. A younger person may not consider potential harmful effects of smoking dope but will revel in the slapstick humour of the protagonists and associate the two actions. Films that show only a positive side of drug use offer a skewed version of reality in which the characters indulge with impunity. Young people need to have a balanced perspective on drugs and recognise that taking even the most innocuous of mind-altering substances has consequences. A film such as Ted 2 presents an unrealistic perspective on an extremely serious subject.

Hong Kong is a society in which there is a high degree of gender equality. Few professions are closed to women and they occupy a number of key governmental and corporate positions. Not so in the Ted films where women are either prostitutes, former prostitutes, check-out girls or objects of lust. The one exception, a lawyer, is incapable of finishing a sentence without hitting a bong. Younger students I have spoken to do not seem to have picked up on the sexual nature of the film but are certainly aware that the women portrayed in it are not valued. Additionally, the film uses homophobic slurs under the guise of witty repartee between the characters, which I have noticed being copied by groups of boys. Young people of both genders need to know that this behaviour is both offensive and wrong. Hong Kong is a respectful place to live and it would be a great shame if a film as shallow as Ted 2 damaged the work done to create a more equitable society.

Young people should be protected from films like Ted 2. The values promoted through these works will undermine the messages children receive at home, at school and in society. Through education, we can seek to provide a strong set of values with which young people can make decisions. It is vital that we provide a counterbalance for films that show a morally bankrupt life.

Jessica Ogilvy-Stuart is director of the Brandon Learning Centre