I have spent quite a bit of time on this blog discussing why I don’t rely on the ratings systems for any type of media. It is my hope that research will eventually lead to an improved, universal rating system, but it is not likely to happen anytime soon. In the meantime, here are other suggestions on how to more effectively monitor your child’s media content.
1. Don’t completely ignore the ratings, but do use caution.
Yes, you can’t be sure that the latest rated G-rated movie to hit the big screen will not frighten your 6-year-old, but you can be certain that you should stay clear of that R-rated Oscar nominee for best picture.
2. Preview media whenever possible.
I say this because this is what I am “supposed” to say, but come on, who really has time for this? And do you have to skill to get past the first screen of the latest M-rated video game to see what it contains? Not likely. But congrats if you have the time (and skill) to do this regularly.
3. Let someone else do the previewing.
This is what I do. Every time. There are tons of fabulous online resources that give you detailed content-based reviews of every type of media imaginable. Your child has a fear of snakes? Concerned about the glamorization of teen pregnancy? Don’t like the f-word? You can read about details such as this in less than 10 minutes. My favorite websites are kids-in-mind.com and commonsensemedia.org. The latter reviews movies, TV shows, books, websites, and even smart phone apps. Reviews are done by child development experts, parents, and kids themselves, so you can get a variety of perspectives. Rather than saying, “I don’t want you to see this movie because it is rated PG-13, and you are only 12, you can instead state specific reasons why the content is concerning to you, which is more likely to lead to a meaningful discussion with your child. You can even involve your child in the review process. Peaches herself decided she did not want to see a movie after we read and discussed a review of it together. She concluded that she didn’t want to see the movie she was clamoring for after reading reviews of it written by kids her age, many of who said they were frightened by it.
4. Co-view, and talk, talk, talk.
There is abundant research indicating that active mediation, the process of consuming and discussing media with your child, can reduce the negative effects. However, this is only effective IF you talk about media depictions with your child. (So sitting in silence next to your teen while they watch Texas Chainsaw 3D is not what I am suggesting). Here are some resources for general tips on how to talk to your children about violent media, sexual media, and advertising. If you want conversation-starters for a particular movie, TV show, video game, or even song lyrics, commonsensemedia.org gives specific discussion topics for each media product they review. So start talking!