Much has already been written, including here at NRO, about the new French independent movie Cuties, hosted on Netflix. Last week, I had a piece refuting the absurd notion that only far-right conspiracy theorists and Internet trolls might take issue with a movie that features young girls watching pornography, discussing oral sex, taking and sharing nude pictures of themselves, and learning how to strip dance.
But I think the debate over the movie is actually even more important than the passing online controversy. Cuties turned into a flashpoint in the culture war, with progressives pretending that only right-wing extremists or repressive Puritans might object to the movie’s content, and those who disliked the movie began an Internet campaign to boycott Netflix for continuing to stream it.
In my latest column for the Catholic Herald’s “Chapter House” blog, I brought up a few points about children, young adults, and their use of technology, a subject that Cuties touches on and that deserves a great deal more attention that the movie itself. Here’s a bit of what I had to say in that piece:
The debate over the movie has offered an occasion to reflect on how today’s younger generations are growing up with omnipresent technology, providing access to a nearly unlimited universe of addictive, damaging, and sometimes dangerous content.
A 2018 Pew Research Report poll found that 45 percent of teenagers in the U.S. said they use the Internet “almost constantly,” 44 percent said they go online several times a day, and a whopping 95 percent said they either own or have regular access to a smartphone. In 2016, a Common Sense Media survey reported that one out of every two U.S. teenagers said they feel addicted to their phones, and nearly 80 percent said they check their devices at least hourly.
And it’s not just teenagers: A 2012 survey found that about 60 percent of children in the U.S. between the ages of eight to twelve had cellphones, a percentage that almost certainly has increased over the last decade.
While laptops and smartphones aren’t inherently problematic, they carry significant risk of overuse, addiction, damage to mental health, and exposure to harmful or dangerous content — even for adults, but especially for children and teenagers. An increasing number of studies have found, for instance, that social-media use by minors is linked to a greater risk for depression, anxiety, self-harm, and suicidality.
The average age of a child’s first exposure to pornography, meanwhile, seems to fall somewhere between eight and eleven years old, though many report being much younger. Nearly 40 percent of all teenagers report having posted or sent sexually suggestive messages, 22 percent of teen girls report having sent semi-nude or nude photos, and 15 percent of all teens who have done so say they sent the photos to someone on the Internet whom they’ve never met.
These statistics are incredibly frightening, and they receive little to no attention in our public conversations, whether about Cuties or anything else. Regardless of one’s views about the movie and its sexualized depiction of child actors, perhaps the debate will spur us to seriously consider these startling realities — in the public square, certainly, but more important, in our communities and our homes.