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Media and Children: Choosing TV Programs, Movies, Videos, & DVDs

Posted , updated Dec 11, 2010.

Media and Children: Choosing TV Programs, Movies, Videos, & DVDs

Families can use a number of tools to be selective about the the kinds of TV programs or movies they watch. There are some good websites that offer reviews or ratings about the content of movies, videos, and DVDs. Although the existing industry ratings can be a useful general guide for parents, the sites listed below offer more detailed descriptions of content that can help parents select or discuss movies with their children. All of these sites are free (or have free versions), and information about the sponsoring organization and the methods they use to rate content are clearly described.

Common Sense Media

Includes ratings on sexual content, violence (including peril and tension), language, and messages (social behavior, commercialism, and drugs/alcohol/tobacco), comments on areas of concern and potential discussion, and comparisons to other or similar alternatives. Users can also view ratings by parents and children. Free registration allows parents and children to contribute reviews and ratings, and to subsribe to a monthly email newsletter..

Kids in Mind

Provides three ratings (on a 1-10 scale) for Sex/Nudity, Violence/Gore, and Profanity, along with a list of discussion topics, and messages or values that the film conveys. Detailed descriptions and examples of content in each category are provided.

Screen It! Entertainment Reviews

(Subscription: $25/yr) Includes comments on 15 areas that parents might be interest in or concerned about. These include major concerns (e.g., drugs, sex, violence), concerns for younger children (e.g., bad attitude, frightening music, tense family scenes), and also “topics to talk about” that could be stimulated by the film. A free version contains an overview and ratings (none, minor, mild, heavy) in the 15 areas, and contains ads.

What About TV Ratings?

Why would parents use the websites described above when the the television industry already provides ratings for TV shows (see Parental Media Guide, These ratings could be used to help guide choices, and to program V-chips that are in all recently made TV sets, but this assumes that the ratings are valid and reliable. One study found that a panel of parents, grandparents, and professionals often agreed with industry ratings of whether content was innapropriate for children (e.g., all “R-rated” movies and TV-MA rate television programs), but they often disagreed on whether movies or programs rated as being appropriate for children really were. Especially in the case of violence, parents often found objectionable content in G or PG rated films and in TV-Y, TV-Y7, and TV-G rated television programs.

A more recent national survey found that only half of all parents think that most TV shows are accurately rated. Most of the parents who do use ratings found them at least somewhat useful, however, many parents do not know what the ratings mean. Given this discrepancy, the more detailed information provided by the websites described above allow parents to make their own judgements about whether a television program or film is appropriate for their own children.

TV Ratings

TV-Y - All children can watch; zero violence or sexual content

TV-Y7- For children 7 and over

TV-G - For general audiences; no sex, violence or inappropriate language

TV-PG - Parental guidance suggested

V-14- Suitable only for people over 14; some sex or violence

TV-MA - Suitable only for mature audiences; may contain graphic violence or sexual situations

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