Why you can’t trust ratings to tell you a movie is appropriate for your kids

Illustration for the article Why You Can't Trust Ratings to Tell You a Movie is Appropriate for Your Kids

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The 2016 episode of Adam ruins everything, “Adam ruins Hollywood, “Makes a bold but precise statement:” Film reviews are totally unnecessary. ”

For those unfamiliar with the show, which aired on TruTV until 2020, the title essentially reveals the plot – comedian Adam Conover “ruins” things by providing the often obnoxious and perhaps even unwanted context. for many accepted facets of our daily life. The segment on movie ratings highlights critical flaws in the process, which is overseen by the Motion Picture Association’s Rating and Review Board. Conover describes the scoring process as “bizarre and arbitrary” and offers some particularly powerful examples of just how flawed the system is.

The black Knight, a rather violent entry into the Batman franchise, has a PG-13 rating, while the not at all violent Shakespeare in love has a rating R. This includes certain “sexual situations”; the first, a scene where the Joker murders someone with a pencil. Adam used the example to illustrate a consistent bias in the scoring system: the scoring committee tends to accept high levels of violence but to be prudish when it comes to gender.

The show emphasizes that the same swear words can lead to different ratings. Saying ‘fuck you’ in a movie would get a PG-13 rating while saying ‘I wanna fuck you’ would result in an R. Conover notes that LGBTQ sex is often rated more objectionable in reviews than straight sex – though this “I want to fuck you” was spoken to a person of the same sex, it could even result in an NC-17 rating.

The segment includes a pretty damning quote on how odds are determined. Joan Graves, who chair of the film review committee 2000–2019, once described the process as “not science, [but] a question of perception. Add to that the prejudices against LGBTQ content and the racist history of the system – the forerunner of the modern film ranking board once deemed portrayals of white slavery to be inappropriate, but black slavery allowed – and it is It’s easy to see how something that apparently should help parents make informed choices about content that kids should or shouldn’t watch isn’t actually very useful.

But outside of ratings, where can parents turn for information to help them understand what the movies or other media their children are consuming might contain? We sought advice from Kristen Harrison, professor and media psychologist at the University of Michigan, who studies the effects of mass media on children and adolescents.

Understanding the impact on your child in particular

There are two key things parents need to understand: More than just their age, the material kids can handle in a movie will vary depending on their personality and maturity level. In addition, early exposure to sex and violence can have an impact on them, so this stuff is definitely worth thinking about.

“When children are exposed to violent media, to sexual media, they tend to behave consistently with that exposure,” Harrison explains. “Children who are exposed to a lot of violence are likely to be a little more aggressive. Children exposed to sexual media may use sexual language a little more frequently, or it may arouse their curiosity about sexuality. But the qualifying point here is that not all children react the same. ”

One of the reasons that movies and other rating systems are problematic is when they include a general and general statement about the ages at which this content is appropriate. Not only are some kids of the same age more likely to be scared or upset by violent content than others, but saying something is only appropriate for kids 17 and over can automatically make it appealing to them. children under 17.

“[Ratings] can backfire because when kids see them it can make the content more appealing to younger kids who want to feel great watching something that’s for older kids, ”she says.

Harrison recommends that parents look for content-based ratings. Common sense media has an excellent database of in-depth reviews based on content from different media that parents can use as a resource.

“Let’s say a movie is listed as having adult themes or as violent; that parent can decide, based on what their kids are sensitive to, which kids might agree to that content and which probably won’t, ”says Harrison.

What MPA Ratings Do Not Cover

Sharing your favorite entertainment with your kids should be done knowing that revisiting content from the past through modern eyes can reveal stereotypical representations of race, gender and sexuality that are not covered by this PG assessment. As these themes are encountered they should be discussed with the children and explained. But they are often beyond the scope of what tools like movie or content ratings provide.

My dad and I were really different people. He was a proud blue collar rat, and I was a book nerd. (He was kind and loving, even though we didn’t speak the same language.) When I was a kid, we bonded by watching pro wrestling. He loved it, and like many kids, I found the over-the-top wrestling personalities to be extremely entertaining.

He died a year before my son was born. As my son gets older, one of the ways I tried to introduce him to his grandfather is wrestling. There’s a catch though: WWE, the world’s largest wrestling company, has a ridiculously problematic history. with racism, homophobia, the regressive way of the company represented women, and how he deals with own work. Instead of assuming that this material would pass over his head, we engaged with him as he appeared on the old wrestling shows we watch, opening the door to some good and productive conversations.

“Research shows that media content that is stereotypical or that portrays groups in a stereotypical manner is linked to more stereotypical views of those groups after exposure,” Harrison said. “Parents must therefore take this into account. I think what they can do is talk to their kids about how stereotypes can appear in the media. ”

There are obviously clear examples of racist or sexist content in older media that are generally easy to see for what it is, but such content is far from being exclusively a thing of the past. Harrison points out that the storytelling process itself always leads to reliance on such tropes. It’s simply easier to rely on cultural or gender stereotypes within a set amount of time than it is to build characters or storylines with true human complexity, and many shows, movies, and other media still rely on it. on them, even if they are deployed in a more subtle way. than previously.

“Creators need to convey a story visually,” says Harrison. “So violence, for example, is a visually powerful and easy to understand way of demonstrating conflict. But there are a lot of conflicts that happen in real life that aren’t violent, right? But the media must get this across. If there is a conflict between two people, he will often resort to vivid displays of conflict. “

It’s the same with other stereotypes, she notes: “If [a film] wants to portray that a character is gay, for example, they could actually always rely on visual stereotypes and visual gags to make it clear that they are gay.

When these situations are encountered, Harrison recommends simply reminding children that stereotypes do not reflect reality and that all people are different and have different motivations and traits.

You cannot filter everything personally

Parents want to protect their children, so it’s natural to want to know what they are watching at all times, especially when they are young. But it’s also impossible to preselect everything they see. Virtually all children have some level of access to devices, potentially even at times when parents are unaware they are using them. Content is everywhere.

“It’s really hard to monitor content today,” says Harrison. “I don’t think parents should feel bad if they don’t watch their children’s shoulders around the clock because they just can’t. And at some point, as their kids enter their teens, for example, it’s developmentally inappropriate to be watched by your parents at this point anyway.

It is important to make sure that children do not have inappropriate conversations or are cared for by predators when consuming media content, but it is also important that they are growing up to help them begin to develop their skills. own relationships and interests, and practice making their own choices. Parents can provide structure and advice on content without having to constantly monitor what is being watched.

For the younger ones there are also apps and tools such as safely that allow parents to see a history or summary of the content children are watching and track other behaviors to make sure they are responsible for what they consume or how they interact online.

Just introducing different healthy activities can also be a way to balance their lives and avoid overeating problematic or overripe foods. movies or shows.

“I think parents need to stop thinking about looking over their shoulders to see everything they’re watching or listening to, and thinking about it more in terms of the media is part of child development,” Harrison says. “One way for parents to deal with this media onslaught is to simply try to introduce more general activities into their children’s lives. So if that means going out with your kids for a walk or making a meal together, don’t think of it in terms of trying to reduce their exposure, but rather trying to replace their exposure with things the kids need. to develop. gGive them a break from media time, and this [naturally] reduce their exposure to problematic content. ”


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