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We all know a PG-13 rating means a movie's content may be "inappropriate for children under 13." More realistically, it means the movie contains behavior "you’re pretending your kids don't do." But there might be even more cause for alarm. According to an article in the latest Journal of Children and Media, films rated PG-13 today are much more violent than PG-13 films from the past, a slow progression that film scholar Ron Leone calls "ratings creep."
In his study, Leone looked specifically at the years 1988 (Top PG-13 Film: The Naked Gun), 1997 (Top PG-13 Film: Titanic), and 2006 (Top PG-13 Film: Pirates of the Caribbean), documenting incidents of violence, sex, nudity, adult language and substance abuse in each. He discovered that violence was the only category of content showing a statistically significant rise.
"Said another way, today's PG-13 movie was yesterday's R movie," Leone remarked, making the significant point that the difference between a PG-13 movie and an R movie is the difference between one kid getting into a movie and another who can't.
Of course, the findings are really not that surprising if you've been watching prime-time (read: PG-13) television. We're not seeing a slew of new Law & Order, CSI, NCIS and Criminal Minds spinoffs because people enjoy cool theme songs.
There's probably little we can do to mitigate the expanding desensitization of kids to violence -- it's too ubiquitous. But here's a silver lining: When PG-13 films become more edgy, it means fewer kids will strive to see hard-core R-rated movies (and it's no fun when they do). To parents seasoned in compromise and rationalization, that may indeed be a fair trade-off.