Movie Mom: Age Guidelines
Every child is different and every family is different. The age guidelines are just a starting point. The information in the review will help parents interpret the recommendation and adjust it as appropriate. Parents should keep in mind that the MPAA ratings are often inconsistent, especially in the PG and PG-13 categories. And just because a movie has no inappropriate material does not mean it is worth watching. The age recommendation should be looked at in conjunction with the grade, which is based on the movie's merits for its intended audience.
In my reviews, I try to specify the ages that are most likely to appreciate and enjoy the movie. I do not recommend full-length features for kids under 5. While many preschoolers will find one or more features that they like, these are exceptions. In general, very young children are not developmentally ready to appreciate a full-length story, and will tend to watch a feature as a collection of unconnected pieces, drawing on their own limited knowledge of the world to help them figure it out.
Preschoolers think very concretely and even the most rudimentary of stories may appear to be a series of unconnected scenes to them. They love repetition, and just as they become attached to a toy or a blanket, they will want to see the same favorite video over and over. Try to limit television or video watching to no more than an hour a day and try to get them to talk about what they see, identifying colors, locations, and especially emotions. Getting them to identify the feelings of the characters they watch -- not just whether the characters are happy, sad, angry, or scared but also whether they are lonely, proud, jealous, or worried. This will help them understand their own emotions and those of the people around them better. It is also important to begin to teach them how to handle scary scenes in movies. Rehearse with them what they will do if it is a little scary (hold your hand, sit on your lap) and what they will do if it is very scary (turn it off). If something is too scary, ask them to draw a picture or tell you a story about what they would like to see happen.
Kindergarten - Grade 3
Kids this age are ready to begin seeing movies in a theater. Be sure to let them know ahead of time that it is not like watching movies at home. It is very dark, there is a huge screen, and there is no talking or running around in the theater. They are also old enough for feature films with stories. It will really help children to give them some background before they see the movie, especially if it takes place in another time or location. Set up the situation for them, but don't give away any surprises. Try to tie the film into something they are interested in or something they feel a connection to. Keep in mind that there is a wide variation in how children respond and be respectful of a child's own sense of what is too scary or too adult. Be sure to expose kids to some classic older films so that they will not resist black and white movies when they get older. Keep talking to kids about how to recognize the emotions and concerns of the characters and ask them what they would have done. Use the movies they like as springboards to lead you to related books and activities.