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Culture Challenge of the Week: Untrustworthy Media Ratings

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

How many times have you judged a movie by its cover and its rating? As the summer gets underway parents across the country are fielding multiple requests from their kids to rent movies and/or head to the theatre to see the latest release. Many fine parents rely only on the Hollywood-drafted descriptions and Hollywood-created ratings system to determine which movies their sons and daughters can watch. But relying on Hollywood is a big mistake.

The truth is, Hollywood peppers –and often fills - movies they claim are appropriate for children with sex and violence.

Research verifies what savvy parents know by experience: harmful media content abounds, from sexual dialogue and explicit sex, to intense violence and brutality, to foul and blasphemous language.

And exposure to harmful media has real life consequences. For example, a major Rand study showed that teens who watch the most sexual content on TV are twice as likely to become sexually active, at earlier ages, than teens who view the least. Numerous studies show that a steady diet of TV or video game violence increases aggression and behavioral problems in children. And the entertainment industry’s relentless assault on religion and traditional values undermines our children’s morality as much as their psychological health.

(Hollywood’s not even bashful about promoting its liberal agenda to our children. In interviews with culture expert and author Ben Shapiro, top producers and TV executives spoke freely about their efforts to normalize homosexual behavior and to spread the liberal gospel.)

So how can good parents decide what programs, movies, or games their children should watch (or play) this summer?

Forget the media ratings. Check the media content instead.

Children are often quick to ‘reassure’ their parents that a hoped-for movie, video game or TV show must be age-appropriate because the rating says so. (“I’m 14 and it’s only rated PG-13”). But media ratings are not truly independent of the entertainment industry; producers, creators, and profit-seeking media companies all weigh in. And their criteria and judgments don’t reflect what most parents think. Age ratings offer a “ballpark” estimate of the product’s target audience, but little guidance about the product’s actual content. “Ratings creep” makes the rating even less reliable, as the same movie that’s now rated PG-13 would have been rated R years earlier.

A new study published this month (June 2011) in the journal Pediatrics shows that fewer than half of all parents typically consult the movie industry’s ratings and only about a third of parents check TV or video game ratings. Some don’t bother to check out ratings because they just don’t care what’s in a movie at all – they foolishly let their children watch anything they want. But others just don’t trust the ratings – and for good reason.

According to the study, the ratings also don’t tell caring parents what they really want to know: “What’s in it?”

More than anything else, careful parents value specific content information about the levels of violence, sexual content, adult themes and offensive language within a movie, game, or program. And there’s good reason for that too.

How to Save Your Family: Become Media-Wise

Accurate information puts parents in charge. It lets us decide what content is appropriate for our own children, according to our own values. Not surprisingly, religious beliefs strongly influence most parents’ decisions about age-appropriate media content. For example, 45% of regular worshippers would shield their children from dialogue about alternative lifestyles while only 22% of less-frequent worshippers would do so.

So where can parents turn for accurate media information? Try these three excellent resources:

Parents Television Council provides content information, reviews, and research on media trends., sponsored by Focus on the Family, offers valuable, content-based reviews of movies, video games and music. provides extremely detailed information on current and classic movies.

Protect your children from adults who don’t share your values and are on a mission to thwart your influence. If you believe a movie is inappropriate for your child, explain why and then commit to securing an alternative that works for both of you.

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