I can be as (over)protective as just about anyone, but when it comes to deciding which movies my kids can watch, I worry far less about a rating itself than the REASONS for that rating. PG-13 can mean many things, and the rating has been given to films that I would gladly allow my 9 year old to watch and to other films that I would not want my 13 year old to see. Likewise, there are a few R films that I have allowed my 16 year old to watch, while there are many others that will have to wait.
Rude language and sex are the touchy issues that give a movie ‘thumbs down’ quickly in my house…at least until the kids are in bed. If cursing or nudity are the main reasons for a PG-13 rating, that movie is off the list for my elementary and middle school kids. For example, Austin Powers? Not for the kids, Baby. The same goes for Rated R: As a former-English-teacher-dad of a book-loving high school student, I would like to share Shakespeare In Love with my daughter…but for all its strengths, the movie crosses a few too many lines along the way–for now.
In fact, from my point of view, the entertainment industry lets down families when they salt movies and programs with coarse material that adds little but makes responsible parents think twice about their kids watching. For example, the Transformers films feature the Witwicky parents making repeated sexual remarks that do nothing to help the Autobots take down the Decepticons. On the TV front, my son heard the Rock was going to return to wrestling a few weeks ago; he knew the Rock from several family films. But along the way we discovered that wrestling on TV now includes obscene between-match dialogue that would have drawn a lecture from the Hulkster in the ’80s when he encouraged the Hulkamaniacs to be good and take their vitamins. So we will have to pass.
But what about violence? There has been a lot of talk in the media about film violence desensitizing kids, maybe even leading them to be more violent themselves. But for me, there is a vast difference between realistic violence and what I consider ‘cartoon’ violence. To be clear: I don’t want my kids on brain detail with Jules in Pulp Fiction. And the first rule of Fight Club? Don’t let my kids watch Fight Club.
On the other hand, by ‘cartoon’ violence, I don’t necessarily mean ‘animated’….although Wile E. Coyote and an A.C.M.E. catapult would also fit. I’m talking about violence that moves the story along but that even my elementary age son can understand as pretend fun. Blowing up an enemy starship? Fine. Release the Kracken!? Bring it. Pirates that turn into skeletons at night? En garde.
So this spring we will be heading out to see the new Avengers film, with confidence that it’s a healthy, good time–the modern equivalent to Ultraman and Star Wars from my own childhood.
Note: Dad Knows Better has enjoyed all of the films/shows/etc. mentioned above, but the point here is about when they would be age-appropriate, and Dad happens to be an adult. Also, Dad has not received any compensation related to mentioning any of the titles in this (or any other) post…unfortunately.