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With the launch of the tablet and the birth of streaming services like Netflix and YouTube, media use among children and teens has become more prevalent than ever in recent years.
Everything from music and movies to video games is literally just a click away.
That reality poses a dilemma for parents concerned about the nature and content of media young people are viewing and listening to. With so much “entertainment” out there, moms and dads definitely want help when it comes to deciding whether a movie, TV show, album, or video game is appropriate for their children, but some say the current rating systems aren’t giving them the information they need.
G – General Audiences: All ages admitted. This movie contains nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children. Such films may contain only mild violence or crude humor, and have no nudity, sex, drugs or coarse language. Emotional intensity must be minimal. Alcohol and tobacco may be used in small amounts by adults in the movie, but not by minors. The violence or horror must be cartoonish in nature or minimal in quantity.
PG – Parental Guidance Suggested: Parents are urged to give parental guidance as the motion picture contains some material that parents might not find suitable for their pre-teenagers.
PG-13 – Parents Strongly Cautioned: Parents are urged to be cautious as the motion picture contains some material that parents might consider inappropriate for children under 13 years.
R – Restricted: People under 17 years may only be admitted if accompanied by a parent or guardian.
NC-17 – Adults Only: This film is exclusively adult and people under 18 are not admitted.
T (Teen): May be suitable for ages 13 and older. Includes violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, simulated gambling or infrequent use of strong language.
M (Mature): May be suitable for people ages 17 and older. Likely to include intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content or strong language.
A (Adults ONLY): Ages 18 and over. Has prolonged, intense violence or graphic sexual content and nudity.
EC (Early Childhood): Content is intended for young children.
E (Everyone): Generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
E10+ (Everyone 10 and up): May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
L: Coarse or crude language
S: Sexual situations
Parental Advisory: Label appears on the cover of music recordings that may contain sexually explicit or violent material.
“Sometimes the PG-13 rating is still a bit extreme for that age group,” said Tamala Porter of Toledo. Ms. Porter, 47, has an adult son and is a youth minister at her church. Some of the group’s outings include trips to the cinema. “We try to watch the trailers in advance, but sometimes, they’re deceptive,” Ms. Porter said, adding that she has escorted children out of the theater after movies became too obscene.
In a 2011 report from Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, researchers found that parents want more detailed information about media content over the vague descriptions they’re being given now. For example, the current rating system for television includes descriptors for violence (V), coarse or crude language (L), and sexual situations (S). Some Toledo area parents say the ratings guides are far from accurate.
“I don’t want my little people being exposed to the sex acts, violence, and language until they’re at an age they can handle,” Ms. Porter said. “It’s about protecting their innocence and allowing them to remain kids.”
Today’s media rating systems are voluntary, and as a way to give parents the information they need to decide whether content is appropriate for their family. However, what’s suitable for one teenager might not be appropriate for another. One R-rated movie isn’t necessarily the same as another and ditto for lyrics that may (or may not) earn an album a “Parental Advisory” sticker.
Louisa Ha, professor and chair in the department of telecommunications at Bowling Green State University, stresses the importance of media literacy for both adults and children, which can explain how different types of content can be harmful or helpful to children. Other experts suggest parents consider their children’s ability to handle mature material by asking questions such as whether the child is generally responsible, controls his/her feelings well, and usually uses good judgment.
Debby Bowers knows she won’t always be able to control what her children watch and listen to. The mother of two tween-age sons, Ms. Bowers, of Toledo, said she helps her children make good decisions by setting the example.
“It’s easy for kids to get overwhelmed and make the wrong decisions, because there’s so much out there to choose from,” said Ms. Bowers, a speech pathologist. “I know that when they’re older they’ll have to make these decisions for themselves. We listen to Christian music, and hopefully it’s what they’ll choose to listen to when they’re older.”
Kristin O’Shea and her husband Kevin screen movies, music, and videos before letting their 4-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter watch or listen. Right now, the family sticks to certain brands that tend to have age-appropriate music and jokes, Mrs. O’Shea said, adding that she plans to use instances when her kids hear or see inappropriate material as teaching moments.
“At some point, they will be exposed. If they hear a new word and it’s the worst word in the world, if they haven’t been exposed to anything they may think it’s OK to repeat it,”said Mrs. O’Shea, a nurse. “Use that exposure as a moment to say, ‘Hey, people will say and do things, but that doesn’t mean you have to.’”
One thing parents should understand is that ratings are not legally binding. Unlike tobacco or liquor laws, ratings are voluntary guidelines developed by industry groups, not the government.
Professor Ha, who teaches media programming and media management at BGSU and is an associate editor of Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, said parents need to look beyond ratings and teach their kids how to select appropriate movies, games, and music.
“The over-protective parents may think they can protect their children from harmful materials (e.g., sex, violence), but the children can seek alternatives without their knowledge and be influenced by their peers and friends,” Ms. Ha said. “Ultimately they need to learn how to select materials themselves, and parents should provide the training and help them develop a good taste and select good content by themselves.”
Contact RoNeisha Mullen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6133.