- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 26, 2011

Culture Challenge of the Week: Untrustworthy Media Ratings

How many times have you judged a movie by its cover and its rating? As the summer gets under way, parents across the country are fielding their kids’ requests to rent movies or head to the theater to see the latest release.

Many fine parents rely only on the Hollywood-drafted descriptions and Hollywood-created ratings system to determine which movies their sons and daughters may watch. Relying on Hollywood, however, is a big mistake.

The truth is, Hollywood peppers - and often fills - movies it claims are appropriate for children with sex and violence.

Research verifies what savvy parents know by experience: Harmful media content abounds, from sexual dialogue and explicit sex to intense violence and brutality to foul and blasphemous language.

Exposure to harmful media has real-life consequences. For example, a major Rand study showed that teens who watch the most sexual content on TV are twice as likely to become sexually active, at earlier ages, as teens who view the least.

Numerous studies show that a steady diet of TV or video-game violence increases aggression and behavioral problems in children. And the entertainment industry’s relentless assault on religion and traditional values undermines our children’s morality as much as their psychological health.

(Hollywood is not even bashful about promoting its liberal agenda to our children. In interviews with culture expert and author Ben Shapiro, top producers and TV executives spoke freely about their efforts to normalize homosexual behavior and to spread the liberal gospel.)

So how can good parents decide what TV shows, movies or games their children should watch or play this summer?

Forget the media ratings. Check the media content instead.

Children often are quick to “reassure” their parents that a hoped-for movie, video game or TV show must be age-appropriate because the rating says so. (“I’m 14 and it’s only rated PG-13.”) But media ratings are not truly independent of the entertainment industry; producers, creators and profit-seeking media companies all weigh in, and their criteria and judgments often don’t reflect what most parents think.

Age ratings offer a “ballpark” estimate of the product’s target audience but little guidance about the product’s actual content. “Ratings creep” makes the ratings even less reliable, as the same movie that’s now rated PG-13 could have been rated R years earlier.

A new study published this month in the journal Pediatrics shows that fewer than half of all parents typically consult the movie industry’s ratings and only about a third of parents check TV or video-game ratings. Some don’t bother to check ratings because they don’t care what’s in a movie - they foolishly let their children watch anything they want. Others don’t trust the ratings - and for good reason.

According to the study, the ratings don’t tell caring parents what they really want to know: “What’s in it?”

More than anything else, careful parents value specific information about the levels of violence, sexual content, adult themes and offensive language within a movie, game or TV show. There’s good reason for that, too.

How to Save Your Family: Become Media-Wise

Accurate information puts parents in charge. It lets us decide what content is appropriate for our own children, according to our own values. Not surprisingly, religious beliefs strongly influence most parents’ decisions about age-appropriate media content. For example, 45 percent of regular worshippers would shield their children from dialogue about alternative lifestyles while just 22 percent of less frequent worshippers would do so.

So where can parents turn for accurate media information? Try these three excellent resources:

• Parents Television Council (www.parentstv.org) provides content information, reviews and research on media trends.

• Pluggedin.com, sponsored by Focus on the Family, offers valuable content-based reviews of movies, video games and music.

• Screenit.com provides extremely detailed information on current and classic movies.

Protect your children from adults who don’t share your values and are on a mission to thwart your influence. If you believe a movie is inappropriate for your child, explain why and then commit to securing an alternative that works for both of you.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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