There's help for parents who know where to look on the Web
There doesn't seem to be much guidance for parents in the movie ratings system begun by the Motion Picture Association of America and the National Association of Theatre Owners.
And there are signs the voluntary system is breaking down. A Midwest movie theater chain, GKC Theatres, has developed something it calls an R-card. It's a permanent permission slip that allows the child into an R movie without an adult once it's signed by a parent or guardian.
Movies affect our children. A study last year shows middle schoolers are more likely to try smoking if they see actors smoking in movies. A study this year finds similar results with middle schoolers, movies and drinking.
Movies are so influential that when the American Medical Association's House of Delegates met in Chicago last month, it adopted a policy asking the film industry to automatically rate any movie with smoking in it R.
But while movies influence kids, it's hard to know what influences ratings. The Classifications and Ratings Administration is a group of eight to 13 board members who are anonymous so they can't be influenced. We know the criteria used to determine ratings but it is very broad and gives no sense of a movie's content. We are also told a rating can be changed if the board "feels that a lesser rating would more reasonably reflect the opinion of American parents." Translation? The standards are extremely flexible.
What will you find in a PG movie? No drug use, but there might be profanity, violence and brief nudity. As for PG-13, it's a strong recommendation of caution given when a move "leaps beyond the boundaries of the PG rating ... but does not quite fit within the restricted R category," according to the association. But what causes that leap is never clear. So, what do we do? Parents need more than a rating to go on and these Web sites may help:
• www.psvratings.com breaks down profanity, sex and violence with an easy-to-use color-coded system. The raters are academics and child development experts.
• Kids-in-mind.com rates movies 0 to 10 in three categories: sex and nudity, violence and gore, and profanity. It also provides details on content and discussion questions for parents.
• www.moviemom.com gives you author Nell Minnow's movie grades along with plot and information on alcohol, drugs, profanity, violence and sex.