Can parents trust movie, television and gaming ratings?

The short answer is “sort of.” I find it best to think of movie, television and gaming ratings as rough guidelines for your child or teen. Consider these tips:
√ I wouldn’t allow your progeny to view material rated for older youth unless you know the material well and have good cause to judge it’s okay for your child. I’ve found that ratings are more likely to be too loose than too restrictive. So, if they err, it is usually not in the direction of blocking your child from viewing material that would be suitable for him or her. That said, there are exceptions (e.g., in my parenting book I describe why I found the M rated video game Halo okay for me and my son to play together when he was ten years old).
√ Keep in mind that material rated as being suitable for children your child’s age may not be suitable for your child. For example, if your 10 year-old child has an anxious temperament, a PG ghost movie may be overwhelming.
√ Of course, the ratings do not account for your values. A movie that is rated as being appropriate for children your child’s age may endorse values that you find to be objectionable. This is not to say that it’s advisable to cocoon your child. But, you may decide that you want your child to become more attuned to your values before allowing such exposures.
√ If your child is struggling in some significant way (e.g., controlling anger, struggling with anxiety), it’s advisable to consider whether certain media could stress the problem. For example, it may not be a good idea to allow a child who is struggling with aggression to play video games that celebrate violence, even if the game is rated to be appropriate for kids her or his age.
√ It’s typically advisable to limit sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day.
√ It’s a good idea to become familiar with media your child wishes to consumer. Fortunately, there are plenty of allies willing to help. Here are a few examples:,,
√ Keep in mind that while a theatre may stick to the age guidelines when your child purchases a ticket, most do not enforce which show s/he actually views (i.e., in the case of complexes, where multiple movies are played at the same time, kids are typically not restricted from going to whatever show they want once they’ve purchased their ticket).
√ It is advisable to confirm that your media rules are consistent with the guidelines that will be enforced (or not) when your child visits someone else’s home. If another parent balked at your guidelines that gives you information about whether a visit there is a good fit.
√ Make sure you have sufficient controls in place for your child’s access to media in your home. For specific strategies for pulling this off, see Chapter Three in my parenting book. For internet resources that can help, click here (scroll down to the resources for Chapter Three).
√ It is normal, and even healthy, for your child to push back against your restrictions. Actually, I would worry about a parent-child relationship that did not include such at least some of the time. So, keep that in mind as your child howls about your unfairness and how no other child in your geographic region is required to endure such poorly conceived restrictions.
√ It’s a good idea to consume media together as much as you can. (Though I draw the line at Wizards of Waverly Place, which I’m convinced wilts least at least 200 brain cells, for anyone over the age of 25, for each minute viewed.) This is twice as true when your child is watching media representing themes that are on the cutting edge of your teaching. For instance, maybe you and your 13 year old have just watched a movie that portrays an abortion. You might deconstruct it by asking your teen questions about her or his take on what you’ve just watched. (Keep in mind that a child is much more likely to internalize a lesson if the truth first comes out of her or his mouth in response to a non-leading question that you’ve asked.)
Here are some related blog entries that you might find helpful:
10 Tips for Parenting Your Progeny’s Online Life
Recent Research: Teens Need Parents to Monitor Them
10 Strategies if Your Chlid is Addicted to World of Warcraft (WOW)

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