The humorist Josh Billings, who lived and wrote about the same time as Mark Twain, once said, “To bring up a child in the way he should go, travel that way yourself once in a while.” This wisdom applies today, even in the example parents set by what movies or TV shows they watch.
The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducted a survey in 2014 with the goal of finding out how parents gauge which movies are fitting for their children. Family Studies shared the survey; the results are shocking.
One thousand parents of children ages 6-17 were shown eight clips from popular movies. The shortest clip was 14 seconds long; the longest was 54 seconds. All eight clips contained some degree of violence or sexual content. Parents were asked to judge which clips were appropriate for which age groups.
Every time, although the clips were shown in random order, the first clip was seen as suitable only for older teenagers. But by the last clip, no matter the order the clips were shown in, parents always said it was suitable for younger viewers, as young as 6.
These results should be a reminder of how easy it can be to grow desensitized to invasive material over just a short time period.
One of the major problems with today’s movies and TV shows is the MPAA, the national rating system. An example is how a movie earns an R rating with an excessive use of adult content. But the Annenberg study reveals that violence, sexual content and alcohol consumption are now just as common in PG-13 movies as in R-rated movies.
This should be an eye-opener to parents about how misguiding the rating system can be. It may be that members of the MPAA are themselves desensitized, which would make sense given that they view so many movies every year.
Barbara J. Wilson, head of the Department of Speech Communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, explains in a helpful Center for Media Literacy piece that the seven-member MPAA board should be changed to include more professionals with experience in areas of education or childhood development.
Wilson also suggests that adding more categories to the rating system could be a big step in the right direction. G- and PG-rated movies are supposed to be suitable for children under the age of 13, with adult supervision. However, no one expects a 12-year-old boy to have the same sense of humor or level of understanding as a 2-year-old toddler.
But with no reinvention of the system on the horizon, parents can, fortunately, turn to resources such as websites that provide parental guides for films or TV shows: ok.com, commonsensemedia.org and imdb.com. Parents should use these tools to monitor what they and their children watch, thereby keeping everyone in question sensitized.