Is “Action Violence” Okay for Kids?

Posted on July 11, 2016 at 3:55 pm

What is the difference between a PG-13 movie and an R movie? Usually it has to do with language but very often it has to do with violence — not the amount of violence but the amount of gore. A battle scene can be just as long and have as many fatalities, but if we don’t see much blood or any graphic wounds, it will get a PG-13 rating.

Some people believe that what is called “action violence” (little blood) is worse for kids than R-rate violence because it perpetuates an unrealistic notion of the real-life effect of shootouts and car crashes.

A recent New York Times piece collected four essays on the subject under the title: PG-13 Blockbusters and the Sugarcoating of Violence. Betsy Bozdech of Common Sense Media writes:

dventures that are light on blood and guts may seem more palatable. But showing violence with minimized consequences might be damaging in a different way. If you don’t bat an eye when, in a movie, thousands of innocent civilians are caught in an alien-fighting crossfire, or a national landmark explodes, you may be becoming desensitized.

More important, when movie characters are walking away from firefights with barely a scratch or slaughtering hordes of bad guys, it sends an iffy message when their actions don’t have repercussions. Research shows that if kids don’t see negative behavior punished, they’re more likely to imitate it — especially when it is performed by an appealing character or if it seems to be justified by the outcome (both of which are fairly typical of superhero movies).

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Does PG-13 Mean Anything Anymore?

Posted on October 25, 2014 at 8:00 am

The Washington Post has an article about a new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Parental Desensitization to Violence and Sex in Movies,” with some disturbing conclusions about parents’ ability to make good decisions about the impact some media may have on their children. This is not just an issue of parenting choices — it is an issue of child health and ability to thrive.

According to Rentrak movie research firm, more movies have been rated PG-13 than any other rating every year since 2008 have been PG-13 movies. The category has consistently grown each year as the PG and R category slowly shrink. In 1999, 35 percent of top movies were rated PG-13. Last year, 47 percent were PG-13 and only one film was rated G.

But for many parents, the PG-13 rating is too broad. Movie studios draw limited audiences for G and PG films, with kids wanting to see the hottest action films, such as PG-13 rated “Guardians of Galaxy.” R-rated films have pushed the edge of their rating too, deleting just enough content to be appropriate for teens.

The new study comes amid fresh criticism that Hollywood has neglected family-friendly movies. Last year, Romer published a study that showed the amount of gun violence in PG-13 has has tripled since 1985 and in 2012 the category had more gun violence than R-rated films.

Test yourself with the Washington Post’s quiz on movie ratings.

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Commentary Parenting

Yes, There is More Violence in PG-13 Movies Now: Pediatricians

Posted on November 11, 2013 at 8:06 pm

Pediatrics, the journal of the pediatric professionals, has published a new study about the increase of gun violence in PG-13 movies, often more than in R movies.  It documents what parents have already figured out.

Violence in films has more than doubled since 1950, and gun violence in PG-13–rated films has more than tripled since 1985. When the PG-13 rating was introduced, these films contained about as much gun violence as G (general audiences) and PG (parental guidance suggested for young children) films. Since 2009, PG-13–rated films have contained as much or more violence as R-rated films (age 17+) films.

Even if youth do not use guns, these findings suggest that they are exposed to increasing gun violence in top-selling films. By including guns in violent scenes, film producers may be strengthening the weapons effect and providing youth with scripts for using guns. These findings are concerning because many scientific studies have shown that violent films can increase aggression. Violent films are also now easily accessible to youth (eg, on the Internet and cable). This research suggests that the presence of weapons in films might amplify the effects of violent films on aggression.


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Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Petition to give “Bully” a PG-13 Rating

Posted on February 28, 2012 at 3:56 pm

“Bully,” which will be released on March 3o, is a powerful and critically important documentary about the tragic consequences of bullying on children and teenagers.  It can no longer be dismissed as an inevitable part of growing up or something that children should work out for themselves.  This film includes horrifying footage of school bus rides and heartbreaking interviews with children who have been bullied and parents whose children committed suicide after being bullied.  It has received an R rating from the MPAA for language used by teenagers in the film.  The producers appealed, asking for a PG-13 and lost by one vote.  They had a majority, but the rules require a two-thirds vote.

This is another bone-headed decision from the MPAA, which routinely gives PG-13 ratings to feature films with extremely raunchy, violent, and irresponsible content.  The appeal board’s decision eliminates the potential for “Bully” to reach a mass national audience of students through screenings at U.S. middle and high schools, where the film could be used as a starting point for discussions with students, parents, and teachers.  One school district that had planned to have 40,000 students see the film has had to cancel its plans because of the R rating.  It is appalling that a documentary about the real lives of children and teens is considered too “adult” for them to see.

A teenager has gathered more than 75,000 names on a petition to ask MPAA for a PG-13 rating.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture

MPAA Willing to Consider Banning the F-Word in PG-13 Movies

Posted on August 18, 2011 at 10:52 am

I have consistently criticized the MPAA for allowing the F-word in a PG-13 movie.  It used to be limited to one non-sexual use of the term but now they allow it more than once in some PG-13s.  It makes no sense at all.  Either the word is acceptable for young children or it is not.  Movie studios are cynical in manipulating the MPAA to get the rating they think will sell the most tickets.  So they will throw a bad word into an otherwise-acceptable film so it won’t get a “babyish” PG rating.

Today I am quoted in a new piece in the Huffington Post by Glenn Whipp of AP about the use of the F-word in PG-13 movies.

“Allowing it once or twice just doesn’t make sense to me,” Minow says. “The word is something you’re OK with a child hearing or you’re not. And, still, in 2011, I’d argue that it’s outside the safety zone for children.”

The MPAA’s Joan Graves responded that she is open to revising the rules to prohibit the F-word if she hears from parents who object.  If the language in PG-13 movies bothers you, get in touch with her at:

Joan Graves
MPAA Ratings Board
15301 Ventura Blvd., Building E
Sherman Oaks, California 91403
(818) 995-6600

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Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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