The media may expose children to much more violence and questionable material than we could ever imagine. Films that have been rated G by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) may not be suitable for all young children whose parents would like to keep exposure to violence at a minimum. According to a study conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association (Yokota, 2000), there is a considerable amount of violence in G-rated films and “a G rating does not automatically signify a level of violence acceptable to young viewers.”
Exposure to violence can have harmful long term and short term effects
Parents need to make a conscientious effort to screen the movies they allow their children to watch and discuss the movie afterward, without waiting for children to approach them with fears or concerns (Thompson, 1996, p. 28). Joanne Cantor, a communications professor, says that cartoon violence is very likely to promote imitation. Instead of focusing on negative consequences of violence, it normalizes and trivializes it, making it comical for young children (Germain, 2000). With repeated exposure, children could become desensitized to violence. Some experts have referred to desensitization as “the most serious effect of media violence” (Sherrow, 1996, p. 96).
Where do the MPAA ratings come from?
The MPAA ratings are based on a reflection of what a group of parents feel would be offensive to other parents (Cantor, 1998, p. 179). People in this group are not necessarily experts in the field of child psychology, nor do they have to have knowledge of what impact the media has on our children (Cantor, 1998, p. 179). The current system does not disclose the content of a movie, therefore making it difficult for parents to make an educated decision.
Weeding out the “good” movies from the “bad”
There are some very good Internet resources that have developed thorough and descriptive ratings for movies, and some of them are even free to use. Two sites worth checking out are www.kids-in-mind.com and www.screenit.com. For the time being, these Website may be a comforting alternative for parents who would like to avoid the vague and seemingly non-informative MPAA rating system. On the site www.Kids-in-mind.com you will find three ratings for each movie title which are based on the content of sex, violence and profanity found in the movie. You can also click to view a detailed description of the events in the film that gave it such a rating. This Website seems very non-judgmental and is free to use. It simply gives you the facts so you can judge for yourself the film’s appropriateness for your children. At www.screenit.com you will find a very thorough review of the content of each movie. They rate films based on many aspects including violence, blood and gore, disrespectful and imitative behavior and the prevalence of smoking, drugs, alcohol and sex. This is a great site, but keep in mind it is not free to use.
Do your research first!
Use caution when choosing a film for your child to watch, as it seems as though neither the film makers nor the Ratings Board are willing to accept the responsibility of putting out appropriately developed material for their General Audience Films. It really appears to be a matter of personal preference when it comes to deciding what you are willing to allow your child to be exposed to. Be sure to do your research ahead of time, even if all you do is ask other parents who have similar values to your own for their opinions on the film before you view it. Parents should make an honest effort to take part in watching all films with their children so that they can be responsible for teaching them the difference between right and wrong instead of turning that very important job over to the Motion Picture Association of America.
•Cantor, J. (1998). Mommy I’m Scared: How TV and movies frighten children and what can we do to protect them. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company.
•Edgar, K.J. (1998). Everything you need to know about media violence. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc.
•Germain, D. (2000, May 24). Beware G-Rated violence: Study warns parents of aggression in animated movies. The Detroit Free Press.
•Sherrow, V. (1996). Violence and the media: The question of cause and effect. Brookfield: The Millbrook Press.
•Thompson, A. (1996, June 21). Playing a hunch. Entertainment Weekly, n332, 28.
•Yokota, F., Thompson, K.M. (2000, May 24). Violence in G-Rated animated films. Journal of the American Medical Association, 283.