Do you enforce movie-rating age guidelines?

Are you strict or laid-back about the movies your kids watch? Two parents debate whether kids should be allowed to watch age-inappropriate flicks.

do-you-enforce-movie-rating-age-guidelines
Photo: Miki Sato

“Yes”
Jeff Hay, dad of four
When I was a kid in the ’80s, I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted (except Three’s Company). Name just about any movie or show, and I’d rhyme off every instance of swearing, violence or naked boobs—I’d seen them all.

But now, faced with the awesome task of helping shape four young, impressionable minds, I’ve turned into a movie-censoring prude. I’m incredibly careful about what my kids watch. It’s PG-and-under-only for my four, who range in age from two to 11.

I created this rule after I naively decided to share my childhood favourites with my kids. Do you remember the blatant racism, anti-Semitism and sexism in the baseball movie Bad News Bears (PG-13)? Neither did I, until we watched it last year before baseball season. What about that lovable little dog flick, Benji (G)? My children will never be able to unsee that terrifying part where a group of children are kidnapped and gagged, nor the scene where Benji’s girlfriend appears to get kicked to death. And don’t even get me started on the family classic E.T. (PG), which introduced “penis breath” into our family lexicon.

Times have changed, of course, and today’s PG movies seem realistically rated, given present societal norms. So we stick to movies rated G or PG. Sorry, kids, no exceptions. Even so, before family movie nights, I search the Internet to find out about any questionable content. If there’s swearing, nudity or violence—yes, I admit it, all the things that made movies great to me as a kid—we’re not watching it.

There are many portals through which the evils of the world can influence my children—YouTube, friends at school, et cetera—but I will still censor family movie night as long as I can. I will strive to be the portal to good, clean fun and continue to control what we watch in an effort to guard their innocence a little longer. The downside is that classics like Revenge of the Nerds, Weekend at Bernie’s and Sixteen Candles will have to wait a few more years.

“No”
Chad Sapieha, dad of one
It began with The Goonies. Remembering the Spielberg classic as a family-safe romp, I watched it with my daughter on a lazy Saturday when she was five—and was shocked to find it loaded with four-letter words and a drawn-out joke about a nude male statue’s junk. I worried I was exposing her to too much, too soon. But she loved it. More than that, she seemed to get most of the humour. And I was happy to answer any questions about what she didn’t. That’s when I realized: We needn’t keep enduring Shrek sequels.

Fast-forward five years. At 10, some of her current favourite films include Brooklyn, The Martian and Grave of the Fireflies (heralded by the late Roger Ebert as one of the greatest, saddest war films ever made).

Friends ask why I expose my kid to age-inappropriate flicks. And I won’t argue: I don’t take my daughter to movies suitable for her age—I take her to movies suitable for her. Parents are the best judges of their kids’ maturity, not committee-driven ratings boards with arbitrary rules about how many F-bombs belong in a PG-13 movie. We know what our kids can handle and what will engage them.

Don’t get me wrong: Flicks like The Little Prince and Inside Out do a fine job of rousing my daughter’s curiosity and emotions. Still, call me a film snob, but if we limited her to kids’ movies that were actually good, she’d only see about two a year.

And knowing which movies will inspire our kids and nourish their intellects is just part of the equation. We also need to be with them when they watch. That’s the only way to gauge their reactions, provide context when needed and help them get the most from the experience.

Movies represent an opportunity to expose kids to new ideas and let them see fresh perspectives in a safe environment where their questions can be answered. They’re also a chance to create terrific family memories. I’m not going to let a ratings board choose which memories we make.

A version of this article appeared in our Summer 2016 issue with the headline, “Do you enforce movie-rating age guidelines?” p. 88. 

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