Your 10 year old comes home from her parenting time at Mom's House (or Dad's House) and excitedly tells you that she saw a new movie just released over the week-end. You know that it has an R-rating. You don’t allow your children to watch PG-13 movies, let alone R! What is your response? What do you consider in deciding what to say to her? Research has identified that ninety percent of R-rated films have depictions of drinking and some studies indicate that may be one reason that middle-schoolers who see the films are more vulnerable to early drinking. PG-13 movies often portray drinking, violence, sexual innuendo and other adult situations, so how do you decide whether or not to talk with your daughter about the movie content? While the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates movies, they do it to inform consumers and assist them but they are not enforers. Ultimately, it is up to each person to decide what is and isn't acceptable.
For discussion purposes, the MPAA offers the following rating structure for movies:
* Rated G: General Audiences — All ages admitted
* Rated PG: Parental Guidance Suggested — Some material may not be suitable for children.
* Rated PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned
* Rated R: Restricted — Under 17 requires accompanying by a parent or adult guardian
* Rated NC-17: No one 17 and under admitted
Note that a common criticism of the rating structure is that sex is considered more objectionable than violence which results in excessive and extremely graphic violence being allowed in PG-13 movies. Consider that current research findings show a link between childrens' exposure to R-rated movies and early drinking, smoking, and both violent and sexual behavior. The research also suggests that children who see R-rated movies become more prone to sensation seeking and risk taking.
The reality is that children of all ages are sometimes exposed to subject matter and situations just as a part of life that may make some parents cringe. No matter how thoughtful and protective a parent may be, things happen in life that are unexpected and unplanned. That said, parents need to exercise control and provide guidance consistently when they can. And I don’t mean when the parent is rested and happy and content, etc. Not realistic. Parenting means being consistent, making tough calls, and tolerating discomfort with our children no matter how we are feeling.
So figure out what your values are and get clear about your rules in the areas of movies, television, games, and media in general. Then lay it out for your kids, engage in dialogue, enforce when necessary, and engage in dialogue again. Since no parent can protect a child 100% of the time, dialogue is critical if a parent is to have a meaningful impact in shaping their child’s values and behavior over time.
If you have at least a cordial coparenting relationship with the other parent then put this on the agenda for a coparenting meeting whether you do those by phone, email, or in person. Talk about your views and find out what the similarities and differences are. Where they vary, engage in dialogue. Don’t preach, belittle, or rant. Just talk. Share the basis for your views within your comfort zone in the coparenting relationship, but don't try or expect to change the other person’s point of view. Get clear about his or her values and rules and then you can respectfully disagree if that is the case. Each parent has the opportunity and the responsibility to teach children critical-thinking and self-assessment skills. That’s where you want to put your focus and your energy.