Parent to Parent

Movie Ratings and the Big Black Hole known as PG13

popcornSummertime, movie time, the season of the Blockbuster. Are you planning on taking your family to the movies this summer? How do you choose the right film, the one that will entertain all ages, without inappropriate references to sex and violence? How much do you depend on the MPAA ratings system?

The Motion Picture Association of America, together with the National Association of Theater Owners, created their voluntary ratings system in 1968, in response to public pressure calling for regulation of movie content. It has been modified over the years, with our current system of PG and PG13 split in 1984. These ratings are determined by a Ratings Board made up of 10-13 members, all of whom are parents, located in Los Angeles. According to the MPAA web site, it is the job of these parents to come up with a rating that “most parents would find suitable and helpful in aiding their decisions about their children and what movies they see.”

And, of course, there are guidelines within the system, and each rater must provide reasons for their decisions. “There may be depictions of violence in a PG13 movie, but generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent violence.” Did they see the same Terminator – Salvation film that I did? Or is there a different definition for “persistent” on the West Coast as opposed to the rest of the country? Yes, I noted the Board’s location in Los Angeles on purpose – I specifically question the abilities of 10-13 parents, raising their children amongst the celebrities and the paparazzi who chase them, to put themselves in the shoes of the farmers, insurance agents, teachers and management consultants who are also raising children, throughout the 49 other states.

As a parent, I believe they are doing the best job they can, under the circumstances. But after screening one violent film after another, one can be desensitized. They say that about kids who watch a lot of violent television, why not the adults watching violent movies? And no matter how unrealistic a bunch of giant robots may seem on the surface, a twelve-minute brawl where they take out large portions of city skyscrapers, complete with innocent office workers, is indeed realistic, extreme and persistent to me. My kids would beg to differ, however. (guess what DVD is playing as I write this!)

This summer’s crop of movies with the PG13 rating covers the entire spectrum of what is and what is not appropriate for families with young children. Besides the violence, there is the profanity, the sexual content, and the nudity, which is supposed to be non-sexual in the PG13 movie, but that’s another area that could be debatable when it comes to the children. Very few movies ever make the G rating nowadays, even Disney animated features get a PG, for fear of offending parents of the littlest children (the ones who are too young to sit through an entire feature film in the first place). But an R rating is considered too harsh on the bottom line, especially if teenagers under 17 are likely to be in the audience, without their parents. It’s starting to look like PG13 is the dumping ground, the black hole into which all but the most extreme violence together with some nudity and rampant cursing will fall. Even the notorious F-bomb won’t get the R without a little help from blatant sex and heavy drug use.

So what’s a parent to do? Pre-screen every movie. And since I don’t even want to see some of these brilliant films even once, on to plan B: find out everything you can about the movie in question, view trailers, read reviews, ask other parents their opinions, and talk to your kids. It’s a fact that some kids are just way more mature about movie content than others, some can handle robot violence while others are ok with an impending alien invasion, some laugh at potty humor while others bring it home and repeat it over and over. One of my sons might have nightmares, while the other one will discuss the special effects in great detail. You have to know your children, and be ready to say no and stick with it in the face of peer pressure. And if you decide to let your child see a particular movie, then regret it as you’re sitting in the theater, remember this: you can always leave.

My family are rabid movie fans. We have nearly every opening date marked on the calendar, so there’s no excuse for missing out. And yes, we are more permissive with the PG13 than a lot of parents, owing to the maturity level and viewing sophistication of our children. We sometimes make mistakes, but I let my boys know that I’m ready to leave at any time, and they can take a break if the movie gets too intense. Comedies are a potential minefield of sexual and sexist humor, which I am not ready to explain quite yet, so for now I’m strictly blocking the Will Ferrell films with more than the general PG rating. We’ll catch them on DVD in a few years, anyway.

So beware of the PG13, as it may be closer to the R than you want for your children. Arm yourselves with information, and enjoy your summer at the movies!

Patti Hermes

Patti Hermes, Parent to Parent, is living the dream with her high school sweetheart, raising their boys in the Midwest because it's a good starting point for epic road trips. While writing, reading and homeschooling take up most of her time, she still blogs at HermesParent to ParentParentingParent to Parent Movie Ratings and the Big Black Hole known as PG13 by Patti Hermes Summertime, movie time, the season of the Blockbuster. Are you planning on taking your family to the movies this summer? How do you choose the right film, the one that will entertain all ages, without...Parenting Advice| Family Fun Activities for Kids