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Wednesday, February 4th, 2015
This weekend, I went to see American Sniper. While I had mixed thoughts on the movie, there was one thing I was completely sure of: this R-rated film about “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” was definitely not appropriate for children. So naturally, I was baffled to find two toddlers seated in front of me. (As if the violent story wasn’t bad enough, this was also a late showing that wouldn’t get out until past midnight, but that’s a discussion for another time.) As I expected would happen, the young kids spent much of the time shouting, shrieking, and generally ruining the experience for everyone else in the theater. And when they weren’t making noise, I imagine they were actually watching the graphic film—which is probably even worse, come to think of it.
Some people justify bringing their underage kids to R-rated movies by saying that they alone know what their kid can handle. That argument makes sense to me when you’re talking about slightly older, more mature kids, but c’mon, can you really make that argument for a toddler or preschooler? Research has consistently shown that children who are frequently exposed to violent media are at risk of behaving aggressively later on. In addition, disturbing scenes might cause nightmares or emotional trauma. (I still vividly remember how freaked out I was after walking in on my dad watching Hitchcock’s Vertigo when I was a kid. And honestly, it wasn’t that creepy of a scene!) Even babies, while they may not be able to understand the plot, are still able to pick up on the emotional tone—fear, anger, pain, etc—of what you’re watching. The bottom line: it’s simply not okay for little ones to see these types of programs yet.
This seems logical to me, yet I still frequently come across young kids seeing grown-up movies in the theaters. I get it that parents need a night out sometimes, and it can be tough to find a babysitter. And I also get that sometimes tired moms and dads want to watch something besides animated family flicks. But when it really comes down to it, your child’s emotional and mental well-being should come first. If you’re itching to see a film that’s just not age-appropriate for your kid, you either need to find someone else to watch her, or you should skip it this time. Being a parent involves a lot of sacrifices, and missing out on a movie is pretty small in the grand scheme of things. You can always add it to Netflix later on!
Unsure if a movie is appropriate for your child? Both Common Sense Media and Kids-In-Mind offer thorough reviews to help you determine what’s right for your family.
Chrisanne Grise is an editorial assistant at Parents. While she doesn’t have kids of her own yet, she is the proud mom of a corgi puppy. Follow her on Twitter @xanne.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Wednesday, December 24th, 2014
Growing up, I was obsessed with Disney movies. We only had one TV channel at my house, so when my parents allowed us to have some screen-time, my younger sister and I usually spent it with the princesses. Now I write about kid’s movies for work, and so often, I just can’t believe that the material I’m watching is considered kid-friendly. “Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive,” I’ve told myself. “All these parents wouldn’t take their kids to see inappropriate movies, right?”
As it turns out, I’m not going crazy. A study released last week found that the main characters in cartoons are more than twice as likely to be killed off as the main characters in adult films. These animated deaths are often gruesome, as some of the most common are by shooting, stabbing, and animal attack. Studies have shown that movie violence can lead to aggression and violent behavior in real life. Plus, experts worry that some of the shocking deaths of the villains teach dubious moral implications, like that killing bad guys is okay. “Rather than being innocuous and gentler alternatives to typical horror or drama films, children’s animated films are, in fact, hotbeds for murder and mayhem,” study leaders Dr. Ian Colman and Dr. James Kirkbride reported.
Researchers came to this conclusion by analyzing 45 top-grossing animated kid’s movies from 1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to 2013’s Frozen. And the grown-up movies they compared them to? That list includes What Lies Beneath, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, and Pulp Fiction.
In a way, I’m not too surprised by this. After all, my parents deemed Bambi too violent for my sister and I to watch when we were little, and I’m still not over (spoiler alert!) Mufasa’s death in The Lion King. I also distinctly remember being traumatized by a scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame where the villain locked people into a house and burned it to the ground. (I actually wrote about how upset I was in my Pocahontas diary afterward.)
This doesn’t mean you should outlaw animated films in your house. But at the same time, don’t just pop in a DVD and assume it’s safe because it’s marketed to children or because it has a certain MPAA rating. Instead, check out Common Sense Media for expert guides on what’s appropriate for little ones. And then watch along with your kids, and decide what is appropriate for them on an individual basis. That way, you’re there if they have any questions or reactions to what they just saw. Pop a bowl of popcorn and turn it into a family movie night while you’re at it!
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Today is Erev (or the eve of) Rosh Hashanah, the start of the Jewish new year—rosh meaning head and shana meaning year. (Super literal, right?) I’ll be heading home for the holiday, but this year is different. It’s the first time I’ll play the role of only child since my siblings are living large—my sister abroad in London and my brother on the national tour of a show.
Knowing that they won’t be in their usual seats beside me in synagogue or next to me at the table makes going home for the holiday a little sad. Sure, it’s home. Love to Mom and Dad. But I feel like a lone wolf without her pack. It’s this reflection that made me realize how lucky I am to feel bound to my siblings—to feel like I’m not quite complete without them. My sister challenges me like no one can. My brother is truly my best friend; no one understands me like he does (or makes me laugh quite as hard).
It’s actually this unbreakable sibling bond, the inexplicable connection, that is the driving force of the movie The Skeleton Twins that just came out September 19. This isn’t a family flick, so plan this one for date night—better yet sibling’s night out. Watching the serious side of comic geniuses Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as a pair of fraternal twins whose lives-gone-awry can only be saved by each other evokes that tethered feeling that only siblings know.
This movie and my half-empty feeling reminds me how important it is to make an effort to keep the sibling bond strong. It doesn’t just happen because you’re share genes. My parents sent us the message that family is the most important thing in the world. Growing up, my brother and sister and I clung to that and to each other. We are the secret-keepers (from who stole the cookie from the jar to how a date went). We are the trouble-makers (still not-so-secretly poking fun at our parents). We are the entertainers (making each other laugh when we would rather cry or singing in harmony). Parents are the captains, guiding us through clear skies or rough waters, but siblings are the anchors that keep us strong and feeling safe. Around the new year I typically resolve to appreciate my siblings more and be a bit kinder. While there is always room to improve, I can actually look back on this year and think to myself Good work. Now let’s raise the bar.
Does your parenting style foster a tight family unit?
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Wednesday, November 27th, 2013
Will you be taking your kids to a movie this holiday season? If so, how will you decide what’s appropriate for them to see?
A movie’s rating—whether it is rated G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 by the Motion Picture Association of America–is intended to help guide that decision. But a new study, published earlier this month in the journal Pediatrics, finds serious flaws in the rating system when it comes to on-screen violence.
Recent PG-13 movies have contained at least as much violence as R-rated movies, according to the study, while violence in movies overall has increased dramatically: “Our research found that violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and that gun violence in PG-13 films has increased to the point where it recently exceeded the rate in R-rated films,” the study concludes (emphasis mine).
Making matters more confusing, Entertainment Weekly points out ways in which the MPAA ratings can seem arbitrary. The Dark Knight Rises got a PG-13 despite its violence and dark themes, while the new Judi Dench film Philomena originally received an R (later changed on appeal to a PG-13) for using the F-word twice.
The MPAA defended itself to Entertainment Weekly by saying its decisions reflect the values and concerns of parents across the country—hence, a restrictive rating for foul language. No doubt this is true, and I appreciate such warnings, but what about violence? Are most parents OK with that for young children (or even 13 year olds) who might be drawn to a PG-13 film in part because the rating signals a more mature movie? Personally, I am much more concerned about my kids watching movies filled with violence and its aftermath than I am about characters dropping a few F-bombs (though those do concern me as well). I am guessing I am not alone in this.
The Pediatrics study did find a slight decline in violence in G- and PG-rated movies—good news for those of us with young kids—but the huge rise in PG-13-movie violence is troubling. These movies are not restricted the way R-rated movies are, and the rating is just an advisory.
The study suggests we should be worried about how much violence our children see in movies, because “virtually all scientific and health organizations have concluded that media violence can increase aggression.”
For decades, researchers have studied the effects of exposure to violent media on aggression in children and youth. The evidence from these studies has been reviewed numerous times, and nearly all researchers have reached the same conclusion: exposure to media violence can increase aggression. After reviewing the available evidence, 6 public health organizations (the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, and the American Psychological Association) endorsed a joint statement that concluded: “The conclusion of the public health community, based on over 30 years of research, is that viewing entertainment violence can lead to increases in aggressive attitudes, values and behavior, particularly in children.”
Where does all of this leave us parents? To state what should be obvious: Do your research and don’t rely just on a film’s MPAA rating. Many great resources, most of them free, offer a more in-depth look at the movies our kids might be seeing, allowing us to make educated decisions based on our own personal values and what we feel is right or wrong for our kids to see.
The best of these services look not just at the potential kid-related problems in a movie—whether it has bad words or exposed skin, for instance—but also explore whether kids will actually like the film (so we can avoid the wholesome-but-boring offerings) as well as how we might use the movie to spark family discussions about important issues. Common Sense Media’s movie review section is one such resource, as is the blog Movie Mom, by Nell Minow (whom I used to edit, in full disclosure). At both of these sites and others like them, parents can find detailed, nuanced, and very helpful reviews that go beyond a mere letter to help us make movie-watching decisions that are right for our kids.
Find kids movies at Shop Parents, or get great family activities with our Activity Finder.
Image of dark movie theater via Shutterstock.
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