Post Author: Bill Pratt
As a parent, one of the perennial battles we fight with our children is over movies. Our son, in particular, started pushing us to watch every movie under the sun when he was about 7 years old, and he has not let up since that day.
My wife and I had to make a choice. Either we let him watch whatever he wants, which is the approach some parents take, or we restrict his movie selection. But restricting movies is easier said than done. There are a couple approaches I have seen.
The ad hoc approach is the parent who decides what their kids can watch based primarily on the movie rating and their gut feeling about a movie from what they see in a TV commercial or some other advertisement. Many parents I know follow this approach. They argue that they don’t have time to study every movie and so they just make their decision based on the rating and their parental instincts.
I thought this approach might work until I started seeing that movie ratings and instincts were often wrong. Some movies that looked benign were not, once we saw them. And some movies that I thought would be objectionable just were not, once we saw them. My conclusion was that if I was going to decide what movies the kids could watch, I needed more than movie ratings and instincts.
I should mention this is especially true about movies rated PG before the PG-13 rating was introduced in 1984. Some of the movies from the 1970′s and 1980′s that were rated PG contain really bad language and even nudity! If you, as a parent, are counting on the PG rating to ensure the movie is appropriate, think again. In fact, you might want to read this Wikipedia article on the MPAA ratings system for more information. The standards that have been applied to rate movies have changed often throughout the years.
So, if I can’t trust the ratings and my own instincts, what can I do? I can’t see every movie first before I allow my kids to see it (kudos to the parents that do this, but it’s totally unrealistic for most parents). What we decided to do was use Internet movie ratings sites to get more information on a movie before letting the kids see it. We have used many sites over the years, but our present favorite is Commonsense Media. This site provides a lot of details about each movie with the goal of helping parents decide whether it is appropriate. We review this site before we allow the kids to watch any movie.
Using a web site is fine, but the hard part is determining what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. The web site only gives you information about a movie. It cannot tell you whether it is appropriate for your kids (although Commonsense Media does recommend minimum ages for each movie).
In part 2 of this post, I will discuss the issue of appropriateness. See you then.