It’s 11:30pm on a Wednesday night. My friends and I have been counting down for months, waiting for Avengers: Age of Ultron. We’ve already been at the cinema for hours waiting in line to get the right seats. Despite it being a work night and my 35 year old body not responding to the lack of sleep like it did in college, I’m here past my bedtime and excited. As the theater starts to fill up I glance around to see the people coming in. I love opening night. It’s truly for the fans. Half the people have some sort of superhero logo on their clothing. Some are in costume. Then I see it, the one thing that can ruin the whole night. Some parent brought their kid. And I’m not talking about their teenage son. No, the kid’s probably not older than six or seven. They’re carrying them in because the kid is already sleepy. And it makes me angry. This is inconsiderate movie going. And it’s irresponsible parenting.
One of my biggest pet peeves is parents who bring their kids to movies they shouldn’t. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in a theater for a PG-13 or R rated movie where there’s a parent (not an older brother sneaking them in) who has brought a kid who winds up frightened or confused. One movie I was at the kid behind me was literally sobbing and shaking the row they were so scared. And while that example is extreme, it’s far too common for parents to assume they know what’s good movie content for their kid without previewing the movie first. What upsets me most about these situations however isn’t that a film was too crude or violent, but that people will blame the movie studio for their blatant ignorance about what’s appropriate for their kid to watch.
The topic of what movies to allow your kids to watch most recently came up with the release of Deadpool. At first glance Deadpool looks like another costumed superhero and therefore many parents assumed it carried the same PG-13 rating and fun campiness of other Marvel movies like Spiderman or Guardians of the Galaxy. However, Deadpool is nothing like those heroes. He’s nicknamed the “merc with the mouth” for good reason. He’s quick witted, foul mouthed, and offensive to heroes and villains alike. The film won huge credibility with comic geeks and fanboys for staying 100% true to the character by actually fighting the studio to get a hard R rating. And despite years of promotions and marketing material that blatantly said “this isn’t for your kids”, there were still parents who were shocked by the brutality, language, sex, and nudity throughout the movie. As if those parents spent six months in a cave without internet or TV and decided R stood for “Right for everyone”.
Movies themselves are not the problem however. I love movies. And therefore I will always defend film and filmmakers. I love the stories they tell, the characters they create, and the worlds they take me away to. And I’m sorry, but not every movie is made for everyone. Actors, directors, producers, and distributors make movies with a specific audience targeted and with a specific message/story in mind. The elements of content therefore are their artistic expression to the world. Asking for Deadpool to be a PG-13 movie (which one child actually petitioned to do) is like asking Van Gogh to use more red in Starry Night or asking Jay-Z to use more didgeridoo in “Empire State of Mind”.
With that in mind we must take into consideration that not all forms of art are appropriate for everyone. At the public library they break children, young adult, and adult books into separate sections, yet despite age categories a reader’s comprehension may wind up blurring those categories. Therefore, when it comes to film there are a variety of things to keep in mind before choosing to watch it and whom to watch it with. Particularly your kids.
Check the Rating
The Motion Picture Association of America screens every film, provides a rating, and a brief explanation. While some movies may share the same rating (PG-13 for example), they may not have that rating for the same reason. One movie may have more foul language, while another has more adult situations. There are also certain lines that films can come right up against without moving up a rating. For example, did you know a PG-13 movie is allowed to use the F-word once? Make sure you understand the guidelines and the content for the rating of a movie before deciding to watch.
Read up on the Movie
Ignorance is truly a choice in today’s world of media saturation. You can find detailed reviews and spoilers for nearly every movie made. There are great websites like http://www.CommonSenseMedia.org and http://www.ParentPreview.com that give details about what’s in a movie. Some sites will even give you a count of which swear words are used and how often. Don’t rely on word of mouth alone. If you’ve never heard of the movie, it’s plot, or it’s characters check it out first.
Know Your Audience
I made the mistake years ago of simply drawing a line at PG-13 for movies to watch with my youth group. That was a huge mistake on my part. As I mentioned earlier, not every rating is created equal. In my opinion there are many R rated movies I would show my own kids (ages 8 and 10) before some PG-13 movies. Take time to think about the setting you’re watching a movie in. My options are a different with a group of my guy friends than with a group of couples. Some people are sensitive to nudity while others can’t stand foul language. Checking the ratings and reading up will help you choose something that will fit the needs of with whomever you’re watching movies.
Choosing what to watch with your kids isn’t an easy job. Every person and kid is different too. I have one son who handles fantasy really well, while the other gets nightmares. Wherein real life possibilities of life and death scare the other. It’s my responsibility to protect their minds and help them adjust to movie-going experiences appropriately as they’re ready for it. Some parents want to take that responsibility lightly. I don’t. Rushing them into it because they’re friends are talking about it or I think it would be cool is bad for everyone involved. After all, Steven Spielberg won’t be there to tuck my kids back in and sit by their bed when they have a nightmare.