Moving beyond the movie battle



Lisa M. Schab, L.C.S.W.

It's not like I've never heard swearing before!" "It's not like I don't know what sex is!"

"It's not like I'm going to go out and do that myself!"

"Teen logic" may cause parents to question the wisdom of their decision-making processes.

On the one hand, you don't think he should go to an R-rated movie.

On the other hand, if it's nothing he hasn't seen before, are you being too overprotective?

Your young teen may tell you that he encounters R-rated materials every day in the halls at school and you're just being "paranoid" if you don't let him go to a movie that "everyone else is seeing."

But movie ratings exist for a reason: There are materials appropriate for adult viewing that are not appropriate for children.

The confusion comes in when your child is growing out of childhood into adulthood and the previously clear lines between the two become blurred. He is taller, smarter and more responsible–but still immature in many ways.

Young teens are still very impressionable and still need parental guidance and limits. To help yourself make a rational and reasonable decision about where to set your viewing boundaries, consider the following suggestions:

• See the movie yourself. The ratings, reviews and opinions of others don't give you the true picture. You have to see it yourself. A written or oral description is never the same as the real experience. Specific words and actions can express very different messages depending on their context and how they are delivered.

•Make your own decision. Don't let movie raters, your kids or the parent down the street tell you what your child is ready to handle. Getting other people's opinions can help you in the decision-making process, but your own instincts, values and knowledge of your own child should be the basis for your decision.

• Talk about the movie. Whether or not you decide to let her go, talk with her about the content of the movie, and your concerns. (If you want her to listen, make this a calm exchange of ideas, not a lecture.) Tell her why you think particular scenes or subject matter are inappropriate.

• Talk about your values. (Make sure you're clear on these before you start.) Your house and family rules should all be based on these values, including what you do or don't condone your child watching on TV or movies. Let your teen know clearly where you stand on drugs, sex, violence, and other relevant issues, and how these values translate to what movies you will allow him to see.

•Consider each child individually. Remember age does not always equal maturity. Think how R-rated content might influence your child based on his personality, not how well his sibling handled it.

•Make a stand for your values. Even if there is R-rated behavior going on in the hallways at school, this doesn't mean you have to condone it. Saying, "Well, that's just the way kids are these days," contributes to normalizing the behavior. Ask your teen why he wants to view movies with sex, drugs or violence–because it's "cool?" If you don't think it's cool, let him know why.

• Work with other parents. This requires that you know the other parents, which is always significant in keeping kids on track. If no one else in the "group" is allowed to see the movie, it's not such a big deal. If you've actually talked to other parents about their decision, then you know firsthand who is and is not going. Pool your driving time and resources and take your teens to an indoor water park or Navy Pier or have a pizza party instead of the movie.

•Remember the difference between degrees of protection. Being protective of your child means taking reasonable steps to raise him in a safe and healthy environment. For example, "I'm going to learn more about this movie before I decide if you can see it."

But then, there is overprotection: "You're not watching any movie that has bad language." Or nonrestrictive parenting: "Watch whatever you want." These are two extremes where your actions start doing more harm than good.

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