A Parent's Guide to Kid Movie Ratings: How Old Is Old Enough?

Sending your kid to the movies these days is a lot more than just buying the ticket and a bag of popcorn. It’s also about knowing those movie ratings and then deciding whether the content is right for your child. And there are plenty of issues parents have to weigh: Is the language too profane? Will those images be too frightening? How about sexual innuendos? Is the movie too violent? Should I let my child see something because all her friends are? Studies show that the media affects our children’s values, language and behavior so this is an important decision. Here are some tips to help you decide whether a movie is right for your kid.

1. Stay on top of the ratings game. Be familiar with the movie advisory ratings, but don’t rely on them. Ratings can be deceiving. For instance, a PG-rated movie can still slip a foul word or sexual reference in there. Use those ratings only as a gauge, then determine whether a movie is appropriate for your child according to your own criteria. Here is a quick review of the four ratings developed by the MPAA and just how language is portrayed in each category:

· G: No cursing, but some crude language is fine if it’s considered to be an everyday expression.
· PG: Minimal profanity, but not the F-word or other harsh, sex-related movies.
· PG-13: The F-word can be used only once—but not at all if it’s used in a sexual context—unless a two-thirds majority of the raters think it’s okay because of how the word is used.
· R: Hard language. Should be off-limits if you’re eliminating profanity.

2. Set clear family guidelines. Whatever you decide is appropriate for your family, pass on your rating standards to your child as well as babysitters, relatives and parents of your child’s close friends. Setting clear rules ahead of time (for instance: “No PG-13 movies until you turn 13”) will reduce some of those later battles between you and your kid.

3. Follow a family film critic you trust. There are dozens of film critics who post reviews online, in the newspaper and television. Make sure the critic knows child development and isn’t just posting reviews for adult movies. Read a few of the critic’s back reviews, and find ones for movies you’ve seen. For the most part do your opinions match? If so, you’ll be more prone to trust that reviewer’s judgment when your kids are involved.

4. Turn to Family-Friendly Web Sites. A number of sites post reviews, kid ratings, age-by-age guidelines, parent advice and even film trailers for parents. A few to consider are: Common Sense Media and, of course, my personal favorite, iVillage.com. A word to the wise: be sure to read the “About Us” section on the site so you understand the site’s philosophy, political and religious affiliation (if any) so the advice mirrors your standards and values..

5. Become movie critics. Use the book derivative as a bridge to the movie and vice versa. For instance, encourage your child to first read the book, then watch the movie based on it. Where the Wild Things Are or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs are two book reads for the fall movie lineup (let’s link to the Kids’ movie slideshow here). Kids love to be movie critics and debate whether the book or the movie was better. Try a quick biographical or history study before viewing a film such as Amelia, based on the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. Read the book with your child as a way to connect. Many mothers and daughters are reading Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight: New Moon and then plan to go to the movie together.

6. Use the “Know Thy Child” as your one true index. Your judgment is always better than a reviewer or those ratings. They should only be used to help you weigh your decision but in the end make your ticket purchase based on your child’s personality, experience, maturity and your beliefs. What’s appropriate for one child may not be appropriate for another child of the same age. And those ratings can be deceiving.

7. Accompany your child. If you’re still uncertain, then go to the movie with your child. You can then at least either cover your child’s ears or make a quick exit with kid in tow when an objectionable scene pops up.

8. Use movie themes as teachable moments. Sexual innuendos, cliques, violence, promiscuity and profanity are just some of issues that may show up on that screen. Take advantage of those issues and use them to discuss with your child. If there are themes that go against your family values, make sure you explain why you object. Doing so is a proven way to boost conscience and instill your values.

Michele Borba is the
author of The Big Book of
Parenting Solutions

(Published by Wiley, John & Sons, Inc.)

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