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Movie Ratings: Helpful or Lame?

Do parents need more than guidelines to decide if ‘Transformers’ and other flicks are age appropriate?

Coronado's Village Theater is back and it's better than ever. With three, count them, three screening rooms, the art deco theater is expected to be the summer hang-out for kids and families alike.

But will the expected blockbusters scheduled to play in the state-of-the-art cineplex (Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Cowboys and Aliens) be appropriate for kids of all ages?

Ratings always have been a hot-button issue and parents take notice of them because media dominates our entertainment options. Yet a study by Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University, claims parents don't follow the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) ratings because they don't offer enough information about a film's content.

Age-appropriate ratings are based on the notion that “everyone believes the same things you do,” Gentile explained in the piece, to be featured in the July issue of Pediatrics. He recommends crafting a universal ratings system for movies, music and websites which would detail content and allow parents to decide what's appropriate based on their values.

We asked our Patch Moms Council to weigh in about the current MPAA ratings, if they use them, and if peer-pressure influences their decisions regarding age-appropriate films.

Tonia Accetta: I have been using both movie ratings and video
game ratings as a guide for my children to watch or play, but only as a guide rather than a line never to be crossed. When my son was 5 to 6 years old he loved the Power Rangers and had many of the games for his Gameboy, but the rating was for E10+ because the Power Rangers kick and fight their way through the game. I went with the flow of other parents and my son's desires and bought these games for him anyway.

Our family's last movie night out was to see Super 8, rated PG-13. We all talked about the rating before we went and had asked for advice from other viewers. My 11 year old jumped a few times during the film, but overall I felt it was the perfect movie for us. We would love to see more movies rated G, but that seems to be unfashionable in 2011.

Morgan Benzian: I follow the ratings guidelines because I would never consider letting my three year old see any movie that wasn't G-rated. I don't know how I will feel about this as she gets older, but for now G movies are the only ones she is allowed to see. In fact, they are the only movies she even cares about watching!

Tam Dorow: Parents are responsible for teaching and guiding our children morally and ethically, not the MPAA. We can accept that responsibility or take a very easy shortcut and allow the movie industry to do it for us. Children are more sophisticated and mature these days, most likely due to the amount of exposure they have to our very mature and sophisticated culture. If we would like to allow our children more time to grow up, learn to make wise decisions and take responsibility, then it's our job to make sure our culture does not take over their education and training. 

Peer pressure matters a great deal to pre- and adolescent kids and therefore, matters to us as parents. Fortunately, of late, there have not been any controversial mega-movies kids want to see and parents would like to discourage. However, if that comes up, we would discuss the reasons why we don't want our children to see them and ask that they respect our teachings. It's another opportunity to discuss the importance of knowing and honoring your values and saying, "If Johnny is going to jump off the bridge, are you jumping off the bridge too?"

Suzette Valle: The current ratings system is very vague and profits
always seem to be ahead of protecting kids. I mean, how does a movie like Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer get a PG rating? I asked Judy Moody author and screenwriter Megan McDonald, and she said it was the producer's choice, “otherwise 10 year olds won't come.” The PG-13 rated film Super 8 is a wonderful family movie that could have done without so much profanity and drug-use.

When our children were younger, there were numerous times when we followed the rating on a film only to be surprised by unexpected language, drug use or partial nudity. Often, details like these about a movie are not spelled out unless a parent specifically looks up a review prior to showing up at the box office. By experience we know not to rely solely on ratings to determine the suitability of a film for children, but this is especially difficult to do with teenagers.

This goes for peer-pressure as well. When everyone in middle school is talking about the R-rated movie Hangover 2 except your kid, then you know something is askew. You may not be a popular parent for standing your ground (and your child probably won't be either), but there's a time for everything. It's up to parents to safeguard their children and figure out what content is suitable and goes along with their beliefs.

 



Jennifer Armour July 01, 2011 at 12:31 AM
When my kids were younger, I found websites such as parentpreviews.com to be very helpful. The MPAA rating system, as pointed out in this article, is vague and not consistent. The parent friendly reviews go into great detail about the content of each movie. So, the information is out there--parents just have to dig for it. The inconsistencies within the ratings don't really bother me though. I feel it is my responsibility as a parent to decide what is appropriate (and not appropriate) for my kids.
Laura Crawford July 01, 2011 at 04:50 PM
I feel that the ratings make for decent guidelines. However, I also feel that parents need to take the time to do a little recon on the movie before setting course for the theater. With all the resources available today parents should easily be able to make a well educated decision on whether or not a movie is appropriate for their child. I do, though, think that a universal ratings system would be beneficial.
Suzette Valle July 02, 2011 at 05:46 PM
I think more and more parents will have to rely on other sources until the MPAA ratings systems gets updated. It seems it's either is out of touch with today's films content, or it's a sneaky ploy to get more people to buy tickets. I think it's the latter.
Suzette Valle July 02, 2011 at 05:51 PM
I agree the MPAA ratings are only good as guidelines and parents are the decision makers. But they do leave a lot to be desired.
Katie Dillon July 02, 2011 at 10:40 PM
I agree that a more detailed rating system would be great. Luckily, my daughter is still happy in the G rated movie zone but I do worry about what happens when she's older. I was taken to an R rated movie by a friend's and her parents when I was about 10 years old. It was Ruthless People, of all things. I liked it (somehow I mentally blocked out or didn't understand the raunchy parts) but my mom and dad were horrified. Having seen the movie at an older age, it was totally not appropriate for a 10 year old!
Suzette Valle July 05, 2011 at 11:21 PM
Jennifer, Laura and Katie, Thanks for the comments! I agree that the MPAA ratings have fallen to the category of guidelines; not dependable at all, simply something to alert us to do some research before spontaneously hitting the ticket window. When I was 12 years old, I vividly recall my parents taking me to see "The Exorcist," wholy inappropriate for a child at that time and probably the lack of clear ratings made it hard for people to know exactly what to expect then. Today, however, the ratings are so vague that at times it looks like a ploy to get us into theaters regardless of the content of the film.

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