PROVO -- Kids: Next time your parents lecture you about your choice in movies, hit 'em right back.
If you're getting stern looks from mom for the foul language in, say, "Spider-Man," ask her whether she joined the rest of her generation in flocking to the theater to see "Weird Science," the 1985 classic about two nerds who try to create the perfect woman.
"Ah, yes," she'll probably say, "that was back when Hollywood studios didn't have to peddle smut to keep teenagers entertained. There was a higher standard back then."
Then make your big play: Tell her the wholesome '80s teen movies she so endearingly recalls, well, never really existed. In fact, the teen movies from her generation averaged about 35 naughty words per flick, according to new Brigham Young University research.
By contrast, the verdict on teen films released since 2000? An average of 16 obscenities -- not even half of what she possibly heard at your age.
The surprising trend was identified during research into how profanity use in movies has changed over the past three decades. Researchers picked the 30 highest-grossing teen movies -- defined as films marketed to teens with prominent teen characters -- of each era, and watched them with pad and pencil nearby, ticking away each time a character swore.
Mark Callister, an associate professor of communication and co-author of the study, said his team fully expected to see the level of objectionable content rise over the years. The actual results, he admitted, surprised everyone.
"Our literature review going up to the results was basically building the argument that it should be an increase," he said. "It's increasing in prime-time [television], it's increasing in music -- and so we just assumed that films would also reflect this kind of increase."
Instead, researchers cataloged a decrease of foul language use over time in almost every one of their categories: sexual, scatological, vain reference to deity, and so on. The averages decreased from 35 in the '80s to 25 in the '90s, and finally to a low of 16 over the past nine years.
The '80s movies included "Back to the Future," "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "The Karate Kid." The '90s films included "Clueless," "She's All That" and "Casper." And the 2000s flicks included "Harry Potter," "Remember the Titans," and the tale of everybody's web-slinging hero.
Callister said his team can only speculate as to why profanity has decreased over the years. Two possibilities come to mind, he said: Film studios could be throttling back the language in an attempt to keep their teen-friendly ratings while dishing in more violence and sexual content, or anti-profanity groups like the American Family Association could be pressuring the studios into taming their characters' tongues.
"Broadcast TV has the [Federal Communications Commission]," he said. "Really, for Hollywood, it's economic pressure that can change some of their behaviors."