How Much Innuendo Do Kids Understand?

Almost all of us have, as adults, gone back to the stuff we watched as a kid and realized it contained some "dirty" stuff that went over our heads. Innuendo in kids comedies is pretty common. But how much innuendo do kids understand?


Above is an infamous scene from Animaniacs, a popular kids show in the 1990s. During a detective story sketch Yakko, one of the main characters, tells his sister Dot to look for "prints." She returns with Prince. He says, "No, no, no. Fingerprints." She gives the audience a sly look, and says, "I don't think so." If you missed it, you're no different from the censors. You're also no different from most of the kids watching.

A lot of the innuendo in kids entertainment is deliberately put in to give parents a chuckle while going over the heads of impressionable youngsters. Some people wonder how much of this stuff that kids get. An old survey - from 1983 - on the subject takes a look at 12, 14, an 16-year-olds reactions to television programs, to see how much innuendo they understand.

First the surveyors showed the programs to adults, and asked them to explain the moments of innuendo. Then thirty-six kids watched the program, and filled out the same survey that the adults did. The results were not terribly surprising. There's a big gap between what the high schoolers understood and what the 12-year-olds understood. What is notable is the fact that the kids most easily picked up on innuendo that was meant to discourage or disparage sexual acts. What they didn't tend to pick up on was when sex was actually being discussed neutrally. They knew when people weren't supposed to Do It, but didn't always know when It was being talked about.

I wonder, in the internet age, if this has changed. Kids must be exposed to a lot more sexual material nowadays. Then again, if they don't know that something is being referenced, they can't look it up online. I remember the first glaring sexual innuendo I only picked up on as an adult. My parents weren't big on censoring anything in our household, so I watched The Rocky Horror Picture Show well before I was ten. The songs were wonderful, but I didn't understand many of them. Sometimes I cobbled together an understanding that, looking back, I realize wasn't correct. In the "Sweet Transvestite" song, I heard the line, "I'm making a man with blond hair and a tan, and he's good for relieving my . . . tension." I thought the tension relief must just have been the pleasure of the creative process.


What innuendo did you not pick up on as a kid?

[Via Adolescents' Comprehension of Televised Sexual Innuendos.]




We're watching Young Justice and Nightwing does something very clever, so I blurt out, "God, I just love Dick."

My middleschooler turned purple until I clarified. "Dick Greyson, sweetheart. You don't know his name?"

"That's great Mom. Never say that again. Please."