Moms

Tweens, teens & R-rated movies

The Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system requires anyone under 17 to have an accompanying adult and restricts admittance for children under the age of 6 after 6:00pm
The Motion Picture Association of America’s rating system requires anyone under 17 to have an accompanying adult and restricts admittance for children under the age of 6 after 6:00pm Getty Images/Hemera

My boys, eleven and thirteen years old, lobby hard for the right to see R-rated movies. Typically, the resulting conversation is an empty parent-kid exchange whereby they argue for “because everyone else gets to,” and I argue against “because I said so.” There have been times, though, when I have been flexible on this issue. I am willing to tolerate the occasional curse word – but you will never see someone getting slashed on my screen. Just because I am discerning, does that make it acceptable?

Is it ever ok for a pre-or-young teen to watch R-rated movies?

Online research of this question comes back fairly consistently on the side of caution, arguing that typically pre-teens aren’t equipped developmentally to deal with the content in most R-rated movies. Even mature tweens may not be sophisticated enough to make sense of adult themes and to distinguish between realistic and unrealistic situations, or to appreciate real consequences for risky behaviors.

Often cited is a study by Dartmouth School of Medicine of over 3,000 5th-8th graders that had seen restricted movies. Were they harmed by the experience? The research says yes. Dr. James Sargent concluded, “[Keeping] kids from R-rated movies can help keep them from drinking, smoking, and doing a lot of other things that parents don’t want them to do.”

Of course, all kids are not the same, and what is inappropriate for one child may be ok for another. Similarly, all R-rated movies are not the same. Movies may earn the R-rating because of explicit sexual content, or graphic violence, or adult themes. Others earn the R-rating because of language alone. Understanding why a movie is rated “R” will help you decide if it is appropriate viewing for your family.

If you are thinking about letting your pre-or-young teen watch R-rated movies, consider the following tips:

Watch it first. Know what your child will see and make informed decisions about whether or not it is a good fit.

Get the scoop online. Sites like kids-in-mind.com and commonsensemedia.org will give you a comprehensive breakdown of potentially inappropriate content and will make recommendations accordingly.

Jump ahead. Use your pause and fast-forward capabilities when watching at home to omit unsuitable material.

Keep it real. Choose movies that show realistic consequences, especially for risky behavior.

Don’t keep it TOO real. Your child can’t un-see a shocking scene or explicitly violent episode, but he can suffer unintended consequences if he is traumatized while viewing that content.

Finally, watch it with them. If something inappropriate comes across the screen, use it to prompt discussion about the issue at hand. In this way, R-rated movies may offer a unique opportunity to impart your values. Perhaps such an occasion is a mitigating factor for parents of pre-and-young teens who are weighing the options in this debate.

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