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Parents’ Guide to the Movies, Video Games, and More

These days, parents have a hard time keeping track of what is good for their kids, or what their kids should avoid – if only due to the sheer amount of content that parents need to stay up with.

Did any of the parents who brought their young kids to a free concert in Central Park last week know what to expect when Green Day took the stage?  The concert was sponsored by ABC’s Good Morning America and Walgreen’s, so nothing offensive was going to happen, right?

Watching that clip, you can see the parents with their kids happily singing along to every curse word used in the song.  But I’m sure there were some families in the crowd that did not expect a TV morning show concert to contain profanity.

So what is a parent to do?

There are a multitude of websites available for parents that advise on the guidance requirements for films, books, TV shows, and more.

One site is COMMON SENSE MEDIA, and they try to cover the gamut of entertainment to give parents one site to look at for this type of information.  The nice thing about their site is that they summarize the guidance on their main page with age-appropriate icons (“12+”, “7+”, “no kids”) and offer pop-up boxes when you hover over an image with your mouse. 

They also offer easy-to-follow categories:

  • by age
  • Recommended by the site
  • Recommended by parents
  • Recommended by kids
  • Genre
  • recommended lists by topic (“Best prom films”, “best sleepover films”, etc)

Then, within each review, Common Sense Media breaks the content into six distinct categories, each rated from 1-5:

  • Violence
  • Sex
  • Language
  • Consumerism
  • Drinking, drugs, smoking
  • Message and role models

This breakdown allows parents to more easily decide which side of the profanity/sex/violence fence they want to sit on with regards to what they will let their kids watch.

Of course, trying to be proactive in their material also leads to some assumptions on the part of the reviewers for items that have not been released yet.  The entry for Pixar’s UP reads:

Parents need to know that this is the second Pixar movie (after The Incredibles) to receive a PG rating, so expect it to be a little bit more intense than recent hits like WALL-E and Ratatouille. That said, it’s Pixar, so you can probably also expect it to be colorful, charming, and lots of fun.

Yes, UP received a PG rating (and deservedly so, if you have read any of UP’s advance reviews), but to assume that just because it’s Pixar means it will be colorful, charming, and lots of fun can be a bit presumptious, as some have argued that WALL-E was a rather bleak look at how consumerism will ruin the future of Earth. 

KIDS IN MIND is another parents guide to the movies and video games that offers its own rating scale.  Their scale is presented as a set of three numbers, each ranging from 1-10 (“1.5.10”).  The first number represents the amount of sex or nudity in the film.  The middle number is for how much violence and gore is present.  The third number shows the level of profanity.

As examples, Kid in Mind gave ADVENTURELAND a 7.4.10, and STAR TREK a 5.6.4.  I think they are fairly close with their estimates, even if I would adjust one or two of the numbers down one notch here and there on occasion.

Another site to look at is PARENT PREVIEWS.  They also break their reviews down into core categories, but these are rated on the standard A-F grading scale.  This leads me to think that they’re grading the quality of the sex or profanity in the film, rather than the quantity contained therein.

Continuing to use our Star Trek example, Parent Previews gave the film a B+, along with a C- for violence, B- for sexual content, C+ for language, and C+ for drugs and alcohol.  I find this setup very confusing.

Luckily, Parent Previews goes one step in the right direction by offering family discussion points to use with your kids after you see the film.  For Star Trek, they suggest:

  • What events in the life of James T. Kirk contributed to his decisions as a young man?
  • How did Spock’s childhood affect his personality?
  • What adjustments do the characters need to make in their lives before they can successfully work together?
  • Do you think people actually change, or do they simply learn to control their emotions and reactions?

If you’re lo0king for a site that only reviews video games, you might want to check out WHAT THEY PLAY, a parent’s guide to video games.

I recommend using as many different sources as possible in deciding what is or isn’t appropriate for your children.  Making an informed decision is better than guessing or not bothering to care at all.