(Without Having To Watch It First!)
If only there was some way to know if the movie was actually appropriate before we go the cinema… the ratings are completely useless.
Nearly every single parent I know has said some version of this in regards to their children watching movies. It’s such a conundrum. You enjoy watching movies, you’d like to share that experience with your child – so you look up what’s on, read some reviews and book your tickets. You get your popcorn, your seats, start watching and then realise… ummm… this movie is not really the kind of thing you want your 6 year old to be watching! For whatever reason, it’s not what you expected. But how to extricate yourself without a scene? If only you’d known beforehand! And truthfully, this isn’t limited to being in the actual cinema, but can also be regular occurrence on netflix nights.
The broad ratings system, it’s true, is not very helpful. Sometimes movies are considered appropriate for violence shown but not for sexual content or nudity. Sometimes there’s nothing really shown but the language used is unexpected. Or sometimes, especially it seems in animated tales, there are mature themes of death and family disintegration which can be frightening or disturbing to some. As our children grow older and venture out of the world of cbeebies and Sesame Street, I know I’d like to continue to make sure that what they are watching is suitable for their age and in keeping with our family values.
I can only imagine that this issue grows as children enter their tweens and begin going to the movies on their own with friends. Of course, after a certain stage, there is only so much parents are able to steer and advise and the hope is that by then, our children will be able to make good decisions on their own. But, especially while they are younger, how to stay an informed parent and make good cinema-going decisions without having to watch every single potential film yourself first?
There is a way and it is easy.
Meet Kids In Mind: A movie ratings and parents review site written for parents by parents. As noted in their mission statement, the purpose of the site is “to provide parents and other adults with objective and complete information about a film’s content so that they can decide, based on their own value system, whether they should watch a movie with or without their kids.”.
The people behind Kids In Mind have come up with a robust methodology behind their ratings system, which includes three distinct, category-specific ratings (per film): one for sex and nudity, one for violence and gore and one for profanity. In addition to a numerical rating, they also provide a “complete content analysis” where every instance of sex and nudity, violence and gore and profanity are listed with a short description. This analysis also includes a list of major themes or as the site describe them, “discussion topics”.
The reviews and descriptions are very detailed but don’t say whether a movie is “good” or “bad”. They simply list the facts so that you can decide for yourself what is appropriate.
The site was established in 1992 and has hundreds of movie reviews, so chances are most of the movies you consider will have already been reviewed on the site. A word of warning that the site itself is best viewed on a laptop or desktop – for mobile viewing, try downloading their app (for iPhone and iPad).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, whatever the rating of a movie, making a practice of discussing/debriefing with your kids about the media they consume is a healthy habit. You won’t always be able to monitor what they seek out and watch, but you want them to be comfortable sharing their thoughts, asking critical questions, and speaking up if they don’t like, or are confused by what they see. Here are some practical ways to begin an open exchange with your children and foster genuine media literacy in your family. As always, share your thoughts with us in the comments and happy watching!
Another site I often use is commonsensemedia.org which also has reviews by adults and kids. It’s not infallible but it does give me a better sense of what to expect (even on movies I’ve seen before a long time ago, but didn’t remember things that might bother my son). He likes to know what to expect going in and asks me to look things up on there :). I’m not sure if it has movies that are still in the theater, though.