Parenting: Choosing Family Films

FilmI was listening to the Burton and Scrooge podcast the other day, when host Roger Edwards said something that made me pause and reflect upon my own behavior. Near the closing of the show, he noted how, at a recent movie theater visit, many small children were present at a film that was obviously not appropriate for a young audience. As I was nodding along and heartily agreeing about how parents should be more cautious about exposing their children to some of these images and messages, it struck me that I am guilty of this very thing with my own kids. This train of thought has brought me to a familiar conclusion: parenting is tough! It’s the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do, and sometimes I fail miserably.

When my kids were younger, we were fairly strict about what they could watch on television or home video. It took several years to convince my wife that it was OK to show my oldest boys The Incredibles because, in her opinion, “there was too much fighting”. Most other Pixar films were ok, as were such tame children’s films as Curious George. Some other films, such as Star Wars (except Revenge of the Sith) were introduced to the boys by me when I felt like they were ready, usually when they were about five or six years old. Of course, since all of my kids are nearly exactly two years apart, it became increasingly difficult to introduce a film to one without it trickling down to all of the others. As the older kids’ tastes changed, they sought out more complex and stimulating films, which, of course, their younger siblings also wanted to experience. As tends to happen, we’ve become more lenient as we’ve had more kids, to the point that the youngest gets to experience much more at an earlier age than the older ones did.

As I think back on this past year, I can remember taking the whole family to five films: Avengers: Age of Ultron (PG-13), Inside Out (PG), Minions (PG), Ant-Man (PG-13) and Star Wars: TFE (PG-13). My youngest child is eight years old, yet considering the assigned ratings, I should have been strongly cautioned against bringing him along. But, if you look at the titles of the movies on that list, wouldn’t you think that all five of those films would be aimed at kids or families? Star Wars? Marvel? Are these not intellectual properties that parents trust to deliver family appropriate entertainment? Isn’t the subject matter at least partially, if not mostly, aimed at little kids? The accompanying merchandise would certainly seem to indicate so.  A quick Amazon search shows that the latest Star Wars action figures are recommended for ages 4 and up. Yet the film is not recommended until age 13? The studio is licensing the property to a toy company because they know who the core audience of the film is: kids younger than 13. Marvel is just as guilty of this, perhaps even more so. Netflix carries a wide variety of Marvel cartoons aimed at very young kids designed to hook them into the franchise and (cynic mode engage) cry when their parents won’t take them to the theater to see the real-life adaptation. On a related note, try explaining to your fourteen year old, who thinks he’s old enough for anything, why he’s not allowed to watch Daredevil or Jessica Jones! Look, I get it. I’m the parent, it’s my job to do the research. I agree, but there are certainly a lot of variables to consider, and the attitude of “hey they made happy meal toys for it, how bad could it be?” is sometimes an easy mindset to slip into. Parents don’t get much help from the film or toy distributers. On the contrary, sometimes it can feel like they’re working against you!

Star Wars Action Figures

Another problem is that the rating system has become pretty worthless. Some pre-PG-13 films still carry the old PG rating, and it seems that even PG-13 films have gotten more violent and profane over time as studios press to remain “edgy” without obtaining the dreaded “R” rating. How Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Jaws can carry the same rating as Minions and Frozen is beyond me. I was a little embarrassed during my initial viewing of Age of Ultron when the very first line of dialog in the entire film is the hero Iron Man exclaiming “shit!” That word is also uttered several times in the more light-hearted Ant-Man. And believe me, as a parent who doesn’t want my kids spouting off profanity willy-nilly, I notice every single time. Yet, the threshold for an “R” rating is typically two F-bombs in a single film, which means that theoretically, the super hero movies that I’m taking my eight year old to see could drop at least one and still be ok by MPAA standards. I’d prefer for him to not witness his heroes uttering such vulgarities at this age, but it’s tough to keep him from the experience when 99% of it is good, clean, kid-friendly fun. Therefore, we’ve made the call (to this point) to let him watch the movies while reinforcing “we don’t talk that way”. He’s old enough to understand, or at least he seems to.  Who knows? When it comes down to choosing between the old man and the Iron Man, who would you listen to as an eight year old?

Consider the ratings from a studio’s standpoint. Anything below PG-13 is considered a “kids movie” and most likely won’t attract the tweens and early adults, and anything above PG-13 will chase away adults with families. So, everything skews towards PG-13 to the point that it encompasses a vast majority of films released within a given year. What’s the old saying? When everything’s a priority, nothing is a priority? A system that was created to help parents make good decisions is actually no help at all. That’s why entire websites now exist to explain to parents exactly why something has been rated PG-13, because the rating itself tells us nothing.

Iron Man

Another thing you have to consider as a parent (besides every child being different and inconsistent movie ratings and toy/film companies working against you) is that movie previews are typically chosen as appropriate to be shown based on the MPAA rating of the film being shown. I had a “worst dad ever” moment earlier this year as we were waiting for one of the Marvel movies to start. The “appropriate” preview that appeared before us was an advertisement for the horror film Insidious 3. The preview was very dark and spooky and about 2/3 of the way through it, I thought to glance over towards tiny Brax to see how he was holding up. The poor little guy had both hands slapped over his eyes and could not have been sunken any lower into his seat trying to escape the sounds and images on the screen. I felt terrible. All I wanted to do was share a fun super-hero movie with my family and I’d ended up scaring him half to death. I’m sure we paid for it with midnight visits from him for the next few weeks, though. So, while I usually do have an idea of what to expect prior to seeing a PG-13 Marvel film, there is absolutely no way for me to predict what kind of preview they’re going to choose to show. It’s not like they tell you when they sell you the ticket.

At the end of the day, deciding what to allow the kids to see is purely a judgment call. A gut feeling based on and arbitrary ratings system, word of mouth, history with the franchise, and Internet research. Like I said, parenting is tough. Sometimes we just take a shot and hope it turns out alright.


Home Movies by StudioTempura on flickr Creative Commons 

Star Wars ‘Vintage Collection’ by Simon Q on Flickr Creative Commons

İron man final by Cihan Unalan on flickr Creative Commons

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14 thoughts on “Parenting: Choosing Family Films

  1. Isey January 18, 2016 / 8:10 am

    I have a 10 year old and we do PG 13 on the major labels (ie: Marvel). In it, there is clear Good Vs Bad and not a lot of blood or gore. Yes, there is violence, but its very comic book like. I always have a conversation both before and after the movie to learn if there was anythign that disturbed him or he was curious about, and usually when I ask that, he just responds “Dad, I know its just make believe”.

    One movie I didn’t let him see was The Hunger Games (some of his friends did, and he was curious) because.. well.. kids killing kids for sport? I had a hard time watching that movie for that same reason. So I don’t use the rating as the pass, but PG-13 is the absolute barrier to even consider going to see.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pasduil January 18, 2016 / 11:07 am

    When I was about 12 I overheard a conversation at school which went something like this….

    “We’re not allowed to see film X because it’s rated 18”

    “How come?”

    “I think because of the bad language”

    “That’s ridiculous. We hear worse things at school every day.”

    I think a lot of the time parents aren’t so much really protecting their children as protecting what is only their image of their children as sweet, innocent, unworldly little dears. And kids do it right back, keeping up an act of still being what they think their parents want them to be.

    On the other hand you can also find things terrifying as a fifteen year old that you’re embarrassed to let anyone see that you’re frightened by, so you pretend to take it in your stride.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Braxwolf January 18, 2016 / 11:13 am

      I don’t completely disagree, but I don’t think we’re naive about it, either. For us, it’s more like: if we bring home a film for the family to watch that contains certain content, it’s almost like a parental endorsement of that content, unless we specifically indicate otherwise.

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      • Pasduil January 19, 2016 / 10:50 am

        I suppose it’s maybe a bit different if you bring something yourself than if you just don’t forbid something they want to do themselves.

        Also there’s the question of what everyone is comfortable watching together as a family, which might be different than what they’re happy to watch with friends or on their own.

        Personally I’m surprised very young kids get taken to see movies like The Force Awakens because they’ll be too much over their heads, and not enough of what they really enjoy.

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  3. Wilhelm Arcturus January 18, 2016 / 3:00 pm

    I can be the bad parent on the entertainment front largely because when I was a kid I was the first child of my generation with a six year gap until the next one, tall for my age, and effectively an only child. (When you get siblings at age 13, you’re already screwed up in that very special, only child way.) So my parents and grandparents pretty much took my anywhere they were going, including whatever movie they were going to see. I saw things like Jaws, Animal House, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail in the theater when they came out. I was 10 when Jaws was in the theater. My dad did draw the line at The Exorcist, when I was only 8… but he considered it for a while before deciding to pass. I think we went and saw Live and Let Die instead. Or maybe The Sting. Better, but not exactly Disney grade.

    So when it comes to my daughter, now 14 and also an only child, I tend towards permissive. The one thing I do though is commit to watching whatever movie or TV show we’re talking about with her. So when she wanted to watch Holy Grail, I sat with her… and jumped over the Castle Anthrax chapter because I had forgotten about that right up until we got there. I’ve also turned things off. My wife, who had no such freedom in her youth is much more restrictive, so sometimes I default to “what does your mother say?” especially when my daughter is clearly trying to do an end run around my wife.

    But yes, being a parent is very much an on the job training exercise that changes all the time. I always find it so charming when people without kids opine as to what they would do as a parent. My youngest cousin, who just got married, has been very vocal around me as to what she would do. I just laugh and invite her to come back and tell me how that all works out once she has a child, because I thought a lot of absolutist nonsense about child raising as well when I was young and single. Now I know better.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Braag January 19, 2016 / 12:32 am

    I found that one of the most challenging scenarios is when your sons friends parents are not quite as conservative as you and he gets exposed to material that you don’t find acceptable when at his friends house. It’s an uncomfortable conversation to have with the other parents, but you have to do it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Braxwolf January 19, 2016 / 9:16 am

      I’m pretty sure both of my boys played a CoD game over at friends’ houses earlier than they would have been allowed to at mine. They seem strangely well-versed….

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  5. Declan January 19, 2016 / 10:05 am

    I totally feel this.

    I generally keep my kids away from Young Adult fare, like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight. I remember marathon-ing the Harry Potter films myself before I let my kids watch them, and while the first two were PG, still intense and sort of violent and scary, but okay, I realized that this wasn’t the same as Star Wars: the rest were PG-13, and after doing some research, found that 3 of the film’s got it almost got an R rating in the U.S. and in other countries globally. And the material in HP is certainly very dark, dramatic, violent, and scary. It’s the only tent pole I’ve kept my kids away from. I think the books/movies seem more geared towards adolescents and adults, even if the first couple do skew a little younger.

    And yet sometimes, they’ll be the only PG-13 films in the ‘kids and family’ section on Rotten Tomatoes, and it confuses and frustrates me greatly. They really don’t seem like kids or even family films at all bar maybe the first two, and after reading the books, which I found much darker and more violent than the films, I’m sticking firmly to that notion. But they’re Young Adult books, they’re not for children’s, at least, not exclusively, so what did I expect? I’ve had a similar issue with some superhero franchises, as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Declan January 19, 2016 / 10:08 am

      Repost w/o typos:

      I totally feel this.

      I generally keep my kids away from Young Adult fare, like The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and Twilight. I remember marathon-ing the Harry Potter films myself before I let my kids watch them, and while the first two were PG, still intense and sort of violent and scary, but okay, I realized that this wasn’t the same as Star Wars: the rest were PG-13, and after doing some research, found that 3 of the film’s almost got an R rating in the U.S. and in other countries globally. And the material in HP is certainly very dark, dramatic, violent, and scary. It’s the only tent pole I’ve kept my kids away from. I think the books/movies seem more geared towards adolescents and adults, even if the first couple do skew a little younger.

      And yet sometimes, they’ll be the only PG-13 films in the ‘kids and family’ section on Rotten Tomatoes, and it confuses and frustrates me greatly. They really don’t seem like kids or even family films at all bar maybe the first two, and after reading the books, which I found much darker and more violent than the films, I’m sticking firmly to that notion. But they’re Young Adult books, they’re not for children, at least, not exclusively, so what did I expect? I’ve had a similar issue with some superhero franchises, as well.

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  6. Lewis January 19, 2016 / 12:39 pm

    Do you have a U rating in the US? I may have been misinterpreting but you seem to be wanting or expecting a U film from these titles labelled pg 13. Now I agree, some of the titles seem to have the potential for a U audience and are marketed to sell stuff to them, but the films of themselves seem to be a product aiming at a slightly older audience and are labelled as such.

    So I understand the difficulties but if its labelled as 13 or older or younger with parental approval, then you’ve got to do the homework on it.

    If it makes you feeel any better, I saw Jurassic Park when 8 and was scared out of my wits by the T rex. Doesn’t and didn’t stop it being my favourite film of all time still. My dad felt dreadful seeing me cowering behind the seats ( the car chasing scene ) but I being scared was half of the fun, fear does you no harm long term.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Braxwolf January 19, 2016 / 9:13 pm

      Hey Lewis! I know there’s probably (probably) no permanent damage being done as a result of kids seeing content that is too old for them, but the problem I’m describing is a little bit larger than “my kid heard a bad word”. As a parent, I’m not content to do something that won’t harm my kids, I want to help them choose the best possible path, to give them the most optimal opportunities. Most parents feel this way about their kids. The problem? There’s usually no way to know what the best possible route is (especially considering that no two kids are exactly alike), so we end up guessing based on incomplete information and half-experiences. It can be nerve-wracking to not know. Especially considering that the results of your parenting may not become apparent until several years down the line, when it’s too late to make adjustments! That’s really the larger message of the post. Ask your dad, I’ll bet he’d agree!

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      • Lewis January 25, 2016 / 6:22 am

        No I appreciate that, but you come across as a very conscientious parent. As you mention you give appropriate advice on swearing to your kids. I think it’s better that they experience these on edge things with you, so that you can guide them, rather than them experiencing these things later without you.

        Anyway interesting discussion, great blog.

        Like

  7. Doone January 26, 2016 / 9:25 pm

    By these standards we are some of the worst parents in the circuit right now 🙂

    Kids keep you so pre-occupied with so many things that I think I’ve given up on the idea that filtering everything could possibly be done or effective. I mean unless its something I think presents some kind of clear harm to them (hardcore porn, gory violence in movies, adult comedy) I don’t have the energy to bother. And really its been a lot easier to listen to what they think and ask about those more mature films than to screen every piece of media.

    None of my babies are teens yet but …I think we will only become more permissive as they get older. Kids are so hilarious in their responses to the new and the odd that it’s worth it just for their reactions most of the time 🙂

    My son has walked in on sex scenes and violence in movies. For the most part, if he seems curious about whats happening, we’ll let him sit with us and ask about it. And almost every time he quickly gets bored with it and moves on.

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    • Braxwolf January 26, 2016 / 10:27 pm

      It surprises me exactly zero amount that our parenting styles differ, Doony! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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