Teen `Video Culture' Grows. SOCIAL PATTERNS CHANGE
TEENS are into two kinds of takeout these days: food and videos. Walk into any video store and you see teen movies, Nintendo video game cartridges, music videos from Michael Jackson to U2 - usually near the candy and microwave popcorn.
``On per capita basis, they are viewing twice as much as their parents,'' says Paul M. Eisele, president of Fairfield (Conn.) Group Inc., a research and consulting company that specializes in entertainment. Nearly 70 percent of American households have at least one videocassette recorder, and roughly 85 percent of those are active video renters, he says. They average seven movies a month, 84 a year, he says.
The advantages of renting movies, say teens such as Mark Lewinter, 15, of Brookline, Mass., are that ``it's cheaper, you can see it with a lot of people in the comfort of your own home, and you have control....''
Videos have become a very important part of the teen life style, says Peter Zollo, president of Teenage Research Unlimited in Northbrook, Ill. Nearly three-quarters of the teen-agers in the United States watched a rented video within the last week. ``It's definitely changed dating and `just hanging out,''' he says.
A common scenario is to order a pizza or make something at home and watch movies, says Mr. Zollo; eating and the VCR go hand in hand. His company found that young people between the ages of 12 and 19 spend 4.34 hours a week watching videos - about two movies' worth.
Popular films for teens include music videos, teen life-style movies, and especially comedies such as Chevy Chase films. ``Games - Nintendo in particular - rate high with the 12-to-15 age group,'' says Mr. Eisele.
And then there are the horror movies. ``I love `slasher' stuff,'' says Andrew McClasky, 14, also of Brookline. These violent, controversial movies are very popular with young people today, remarks Jan McLaughlin, a manager of West Coast Video in Lawrence, Mass. ``I don't know how kids can watch them!'' she adds. But most teens, when asked about the films, say they don't take them seriously. ``When you put them in perspective, it's OK,'' says Marc Arseneau, 18, a student at Northeastern University. More and more college students have their own VCRs at school.
Despite videos' popularity, there is little evidence from teens and experts that video watching is edging out other recreations or school work. New media usually replace old media, explains Aletha C. Huston, a University of Kansas professor and expert on TV's impact on kids. Time spent viewing videos may just be replacing time spent watching TV.
Whether or not watching a video is a good dating activity is a matter of opinion. Mark Lewinter thinks so: ``Oh, yeah... lights down low.'' But Scott McIntyre, a Northeastern University student, says he would rather go out.
Questions still lurk about the content of movies that teens view, and, as with TV, whether or not young people watch too much.
``How much entertainment is necessary?'' asks Brenda Vander Mey, a family sociologist at Clemson University. She (and all parents of teen-agers, one suspects) feels that teens could be using their time better. Noting that her incoming freshmen are more video-, TV-, and movie-``literate'' than they are literature-literate, Professor Vander Mey says teens should be encouraged to engage in more educational activities or in sports.
On the other hand, movie rentals may be getting families and friends together more. A lot more family viewing goes on with the VCR, as opposed to regular television, says Eisele, citing statistics: An average of 1.6 people watch TV together, while 2.9 people watch a video together.
According to Zollo of Teenage Research Unlimited, viewing movies is often ``a family-oriented activity.'' It's not unusual for teens to invite siblings - sometimes even parents - to join them and their friends, he says.
``Generally, parents are pleased'' with children renting videos, he says. Many like the idea of having their children at home or in someone else's home, rather than out driving around.
As a mother of two teens in Cambridge, Mass., says of her family's five years of renting: ``It's expanded the whole family's interest.''