Kids and Movies: Informed Decision-Making

By , February 23, 2008 9:20 am

We all know that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) movie ratings system is ridiculous. The MPAA is hardly a neutral party, in fact it describes itself as “the voice and advocate of the American motion picture, home video and television industries.” Even disregarding the fact that that MPAA is financed and controlled by the motion picture industry itself, in my mind any kind of general label to be applied to a movie could never be an accurate indicator of what is appropriate or inappropriate for all children.

The MPAA bases its ratings on age. All parents know that just because someone else’s 13 year-old can handle and enjoy a more “mature” movie, doesn’t mean that your more sensitive 13 year-old is ready for such a movie yet. Additionally, parents differ in what they want their children exposed to. Some parents are more liberal and less bothered by bad language for example, whereas others take a more protective approach.

So how can parents make informed decisions about what movies to allow their children to see? Do parents have to pre-screen every potential film themselves? That is hardly a practical solution.

My wonderfully well-informed friend Wishy told me about a website that she uses to check out family movies before either seeing them on-screen or renting the video, and I have recently added it to the “Useful Websites” category of my blogroll (left sidebar).

Common Sense Media is a “non-partisan, not-for-profit organization” providing “trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.” This organization has its own rating system whereby it determines its own minimum age for appropriateness, as well as providing a 5-star quide to the quality of a movie. Just because a movie is age-appropriate doesn’t mean you want to sit through 2 hours of nonsense, right?

Although Common Sense Media is more neutral in its ratings than the MPAA, as I mentioned above, simply assigning a one-size-fits-all recommended age is not always very helpful. In my mind, the best part of Common Sense Media’s reviews is the “Content Grid.” This is where you can find out the nitty gritty details about a movie’s Sexual Content, Violence, Language and Message (Social Behavior, Commercialism, and Drug/Alcohol/Tobacco use).

Do you want to know exactly what bad language occurs in a film and how often? Do you want to know how many times the hero picks up a can of Diet Coke? Do you want to know if there is gross comedy involving bodily functions or any potentially scary scenes? This is where you’ll find that information. Warning: this detailed information can be considered a “spoiler” for some, but as a parent seeking information, aren’t you really looking for a “spoiler?”

So go to the site, pick a movie, and read the review to see just what kind of information you can learn!

Another site that I discovered on my own while researching this post is Kids-In-Mind. I think I actually prefer this site (despite the annoying banner ads) because it doesn’t attempt to assign any minimum age or even review the quality of a movie. Instead it simply provides VERY detailed descriptions of film content. Here is an excerpt from their “About” page:

The purpose of is to provide parents and other adults with objective and complete information about a film’s content so that they can decide, based on their own value system, whether they should watch a movie with or without their kids.

It’s like a food labeling system which tells you what a food item contains. That’s it. We make no judgments about what is good or bad or anything else. Indeed, we do not “condemn,” “critique” or “criticize” movies. And we don’t “praise” or “recommend” movies either. We advance no “beliefs” and we do not “preach” anything. We are not affiliated with any political party, any cultural or religious group, or any ideology. The only thing we advocate is responsible, engaged parenting.

They point out that often their descriptions are so detailed as to be a bit ridiculous, but as they say: “…we’d rather err on the side of comprehensiveness. It’s up to parents to decide which details are useful to them and their family, and which ones they consider fatuous.”

I like this philosophy. Non-judgmental, simply a great source for detailed information so that parents can make their own movie viewing decisions based on their personal concerns and values, and knowing the sensitivity-level of their child. Sounds good to me!

Photo courtesy of and photographer Michael Connors.

2 Responses to “Kids and Movies: Informed Decision-Making”

  1. We watch very few movies but when we do it’s usually from the library. We’ve been using the Kids In Mind site for popular movies. I love it because we’ve decided our kids can watch 2-3-2 movies and nothing higher. It makes the decision making a lot easier!

    It is interesting reading the content of the movies they review. You can watch some thing and it doesn’t seem so bad but reading it in black and white makes it shocking!

  2. MamaShift says:

    Presonally, I haven’t seen a US-produced children’s film that I would be happy to show my children: The images move too quickly, violent scenes last several minutes longer than necessary (than movies produced outside the US, as well), and there is almost always a whiny or screechy tone of voice.

    Once you’ve watched children’s movies produced in other countries, you won’t be able to NOT notice the difference anymore.

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