Here’s what we learned from watching the new “teen party gone awry” flick Project X: If you want instant popularity, throw a wild extravaganza while your parents are out of town. But don’t just organize a small or even mid-sized gathering. Think “party of the century.” Invite every beautiful girl and popular dude you know. Play loud dance music by the pool in your backyard. Stock your home with tons of booze. Augment your coolness with unique touches: a wooden gnome filled with Ecstasy, a beer keg in a tree, a balloon-rigged harness for your family dog. If your neighbors complain about the noise, zap them with a taser. If the police come, don’t worry about it! And if the party devolves into total anarchy—causing enough property damage to wipe out your college fund and put your parents in debt till the day they die—remember that all this will be worth it in the end. Because when you go to school the next day, you will be a hero and you will win the girl of your dreams!
OK, so maybe this isn’t exactly what we took away from this outlandish, yet entertaining movie, but we had to wonder: How would the teenage versions of ourselves have responded to the film? Surely, the wild night depicted in Project X represents partying in the extreme—and no teen moviegoer would ever of dream of replicating it. Or would they?
This week, a study was published in the journal Pediatrics suggesting that movies may, in fact, influence teenage binge drinking. In the study, American and European researchers watched fifty popular films and tallied how many times alcohol appeared on screen. They then surveyed 16,551 students between the ages of 10 and 19 in six countries. Students were asked how many of the films they had seen as well as questions about their real-life drinking behavior. Turns out, students who had witnessed the most instances of drinking onscreen were also most likely to have engaged in at least one episode of binge drinking. This correlation was significant when the entire group of students was taken as a whole—and in all but one case, when countries were considered separately. In addition, the more times students had seen drinking in the movies, the more likely they were to be considered “rebellious” and to have friends who drink.
Of course, we know that correlation does not mean causation. It may be that kids who already drink are more attracted to films like Project X. We can’t conclude that this type of movie actually causes teens to hit the bottle.
However, we do know that excessive drinking is highly dangerous for teens, whose brains are still developing. Early alcohol use can set the stage for alcohol problems later on. We also know that if a person reaches the age of 21 without developing a substance abuse problem, they are unlikely to do so in the future. With this in mind, why wouldn’t we try, to the extent that we can, to limit possible triggers of risky adolescent behavior?
Not all teens who watch Project X will be inspired to mimic the heavy drinking and drugging they observe, but some may. In the comments section of one review of the film, a 17-year-old wrote, “This film is just genius! I want to have a party like that and I will!” Was he joking? Possibly. But if there’s even a chance that fewer movies like Project X would mean fewer teens take up binge drinking, this is one type of entertainment we’d be willing to give up.
Kate Schmier, Emma Edelman, and Alex Kazickas
Phoenix House Blog Team
**Update: Soon after publishing this blog, we learned that a Houston teen was recently killed at a Project X-inspired party.**
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