Monitoring Kids’ Media: Movies

Do you know what your kids are up to?

It’s a tough question to answer. Many parents would like to think that they have a pretty good handle on what movies and television shows their kids are watching and what video games they’re playing. It’s easy enough to judge from a trailer, or a rating on a box, but with entertainment becoming more and more intricate it can be difficult for parents to get a handle on just what their kids are consuming. How much can you really do, short of sitting down beside them every time they turn on the TV?

The best thing a parent can do is to get involved in the media their children consume, and more importantly, to stay involved. That’s not to say that you necessarily want to watch every movie your child watches, or sit down with them while they play games. But box ratings can only tell you so much, and due to space constraints, tend to generalize and categorize diverse content into a few common descriptors.

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources you can turn to.

So, in this multi-part series, I’ll be looking at some of the online resources you can use to research the types of movies, video games, and television shows your kids are engaging with and talking about some ways you can talk with them to make sure they understand what they’re seeing on the screen.

Part 1: Movies

Scary moment
Movies specifically targeted at kids won’t be appealing to your kids forever. While we might be pretty safe in thinking that Disney, Pixar, and Dreamworks have a good idea of what’s kid-friendly entertainment, chances are there will come a time when they’ll come to you asking if they can see something outside that familiar space. And even if a movie they’re interested in was made by a kid-friendly studio, how can you be sure they’re not being exposed to themes and dialogue that you’re uncomfortable with?

Understanding the Ratings

A good place to start is to understand the Film Rating System, which is the ratings system you’re probably most familiar with. It’s used by The Classification and Rating Administration (CARA) to analyze content for appropriateness, which assigns a generalized rating alongside a few key descriptors.

To avoid industry-wide censorship, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) introduced this system to replace the more rigid Hays Code in the 1960’s as a parent-focused system that could be informative for parents, rather than control what audiences were allowed to see. A lot of movie theaters still have this helpful graphic posted around:

Screen Shot 2015-06-03 at 3.06.19 PM

It’s a great way to get a general idea of the overall appropriateness of a movie. But being that film is such a nuanced form, a single graphic with a few general terms doesn’t really tell you much about the film. So where do you go for more in-depth descriptions?

A Closer Look

The MPAA website links to which has a lot of good information on the rating system as well as a search bar that can quickly let you search by title or rating. But they don’t have much more than you’d see in the box that accompanies a trailer or on the back of the Blu-ray case.

Personally, I’m all about going as in-depth as I can get. That being said, I found an excellent film resource called Kids in Mind that ranks a film’s specific content in three categories: sex & nudity, violence & gore, and profanity. It compiles these into a colored graphic for quick reference, but also offers a “complete content analysis” that outlines the exact reasons for their ratings, and compiles just about every instance of objectionable or even questionable content in a film.

Every analysis I looked at seemed to attempt an objective reading and strayed away from analyzing the quality of the film. This is good. It means that they’re more concerned with being analytical, rather than critical, which can cloud how a reviewer might interpret content. Moreover, they list discussion topics, so you can talk to your kids about the film, as well as boil the film down to a central message or theme, in case you wanted the quick-and-dirty approach.

For example, I saw Mad Max: Fury Road recently. simply says that it received an R rating for “Intense sequences of violence throughout and for disturbing images.” In my perception, even that descriptor seems a bit tame.’s analysis of the film is 3,000 words long and uses strong adjectives and thorough descriptions to itemize the film’s content. And I have to say, having seen the film twice, I’m not sure that they missed a single instance of profanity or violence.

Another resource I found, Common Sense Media, seemed like a good website on the surface, but I ultimately found that they were much more interested in reviewing film and entertainment quality, while putting generalized content ratings at the forefront so as to appear interested in being an extensive resource for parents. For my money, Kids in Mind does a much better job in a more focused, cut-and-dry format. If you want reviews, Rotten Tomatoes is the trusted source for compiling and aggregating both critic and audience scores.

So What Can You Do?

If all this talk of “analysis” and “resources” makes you feel like you’re in danger of helicoptering, I’m here to tell you that knowing is half the battle. It’s one thing to know what’s in a film and prevent your child from seeing it. It’s quite another to sit down with your child, see a film together, and discuss what they just saw.

Ultimately, you cannot completely control what your child sees, but you can take an active role in how they interpret it. You can use film as a platform for creating a dialogue with your child to discuss broader issues, to reinforce morality, or even when you have to tell them they can’t see a movie, use it as a springboard to help them understand why. If you can foster an open exchange of ideas with your child, you can equip them with the tools they need to understand and respond appropriately to difficult content when it does slip through the cracks.

There is a great page on under their “how” tab that outlines the steps to become “screenwise.” It really puts emphasis on engaging with your kids and being part of their entertainment experience, which I feel is the most effective way to monitor what your kids see. They’ve got some excellent tips and put this concept into better words than I think I could. You can find it here, and I strongly urge you to check it out.

In part 2, we’ll talk about video games.

No Responses to “Monitoring Kids’ Media: Movies”

  1. I’m still learning from you, as I’m making my way to the top as well. I certainly enjoy reading all that is posted on your site.Keep the stories coming. I loved it!


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