Would you give your 12- or 13-year-old a front-row seat to a live battle or a bloody shootout?
Parents do it all the time, allowing their children to see PG-13 rated movies. Violence that would have earned an R-rating for previous generations of moviegoers now is common in movies with the PG-13 label. According to a study by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Ohio State University, gun violence in the most popular PG-13 movies has tripled in frequency since 1985. That's a year after the PG-13 rating was introduced.
For many — probably most — PG-13 movies these days, the first listed reason for the rating is “intense violence” or a similar attribute. Granted, there can be plenty of violence in R-rated movies, too, but sexuality and strong language appear to trigger an R rating more quickly. A few “bad words” can be stamped with an R; scene after scene of violence might not be.
The concern is that Motion Picture Association of America is permissive with violence but restrictive when sex or strong language is present, even when not gratuitous.
An Associated Press article on the Annenberg study noted that “violence in film and video games has become an increasingly hot topic in the wake of numerous school shootings.”
While the article stated that “studies have shown conflicting results on whether watching violent movies has any effect on real-life violence,” concerns over the connection persist. A 2006 Journal of the American Medical Association article noted that “for both adults and children, we expect that there will be positive relationships between their degree of exposure to media violence and their subsequent short-term displays of aggressive behaviors, emotions, and ideas.”
Even if the violence-to-violence evidence is not conclusive, concerns over adolescents' exposure to sex and strong language are instructive. Why should a 12-year-old not see a sex scene or hear foul language? If the concern is that he is not mature enough to handle it, or might pattern his own behavior after it, then why expose him to relentless violence?
In real life, children will at some point be exposed to sexually themed material or images, to strong language and, likely, to violence. Wise parents can bring up these topics before sending their children to a movie and can discuss them in the light of values the parents want to instill.
It is unwise to allow teens unfettered access to the gratuitous use of these elements in the media. A rating system that treats sex, violence and language more evenly would give parents a better idea about what a PG-13 movie contains, and might limit adolescents' exposure to violence in those movies.