In March families.com computer writer Adam West described video game ratings, as did parenting writer Niki Bradley, and everyone knows what movie ratings stand for, T.V. ratings are understood by most parents as well. Yet recently many parents and politicians are arguing that the ratings are not doing their job.
The number one reason is that the ratings vary so much from media to media. Every media has different rating labels: E for everyone on a video game or G for general audience on a movie. Music doesn’t even having a rating system, just warning labels if the music contains explicit lyrics. Politicians argue that having a universal ratings system would make it easier to control and understand ratings systems.
There is also concern because there are different standards for different media. A game rated E for everyone could still have a superhero killing the bad guys which in T.V. would get a TV-Y7-FV rating, suitable for kids older than 7. Even within the T.V. medium there are different standards between stations.
Parents are also concerned because the rating standards have changed. What used to be rated R, ten years ago, is now usually rated PG-13. According to the Motion Picture Association of America “one use of the harsher sexually derived words” is now allowed in a PG-13 movie when it didn’t used to be. A USA Today article discussing rating systems mentions that Disney’s 1994 movie The Santa Clause was rated PG while the 2002 sequel, The Santa Clause 2, was rated G even though the two movies had comparable content.
In defense of the current rating systems most parents, usually about 75% when surveyed, say that they understand the rating systems. A member of the National Association of Broadcasters Dennis Wharton says, “The ratings system that we have put forth is not meant to replace the role of parents, but it’s a tool to empower parents.”
Most politicians and parents feel that the government should be involved in determining media ratings systems. Governor Rod Blagojevich signed an act in Illinois banning the sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children (which the Entertainment Software Association is fighting). The governor’s comment was: “Parents don’t need government to raise their kids. That’s their job,” Blagojevich said. “But government can help them protect their children from influences they may not want their kids exposed to.”
Ultimately the power does lie in the hands of parents. Whether or not the rating system changes it is up to parents to understand and use ratings. It is also a good idea to watch a T.V. show, movie, or play a video game before you allow your children to.
As a parent it is important to discuss with your children what media is appropriate. Recently I had to talk to my son about playing video games. I learned that he was playing games rated T for teen and even M for mature at the neighbor’s house. I explained that he was only allowed to play games with the E rating, since he’s only six. After I explained what the ratings meant and why I only wanted him to play E-rated games, he agreed.
As parents we need to discuss what violence, language, and sexual content is appropriate and allowable. The child who understands this is more likely to say no when faced with an inappropriate choice.
Preserving the innocence of children is important but at the same time knowledge is power. Discussing media ratings with your children gives them the power to make the right choice and in turn helps protect their innocence from exposure to inappropriate media.