The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) began rating movies in 1968 as a way of limiting censorship of filmmakers, but at the same time warning parents of questionable material in the films being released. They categorize R rated movies as "contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them."
The movie rating system is a good one, but there are certainly flaws in distinction between movies. In 1984, they created the PG-13 rating to bridge the gap between PG and R. It has been reported that the releases of "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom" and "Gremlins" that year led to the need for a new rating.
However what a parent might think is an appropriate movie for their child might be different from another parent's viewpoint, and that could be completely different than what the MPAA thinks. That is why it is important to read each rating review in full. It will give further detail on why the movie is rated R - it could be only a few curse words or have scenes of violence, horror, or more.
If a parent deems the content as appropriate for the child, they need to take steps in helping them filter the violence and adult content in the movie. Sites such as Common Sense Media will give parents a detailed list of the content the movie contains and an age recommendation for viewing.
What do professionals say?
Social worker Jean West talked with News Press Now and said that R rated movies can be a problem. “I talk to a lot of kids who deal with trauma, and it’s interesting that they will mention something like a violent movie as a traumatizing event,” she says. “It obviously left a big impression on them and lingers with them.”
While a parent may find it harder to stop kids from watching sex and violence on TV or the Internet, psychologists see them taking their children to explicit movies at the theater as figurative thumbs-up for the content they’re watching.
“I think parents are more likely to take their kids to R rated movies. Maybe in years past we would have taken more caution,” Ms. West says. “I think the line has dropped on what we think that kids are able to view.”
Joyce Estes, who is director of the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center, agreed with West’s sentiment. “It does affect them. They see that and they take that in and that becomes part of who they are because that’s what they’re learning,” she says.
Estes also clarified that she often see parents letting their children watch R rated content because they think their children will not be affect by it, because they lack understanding. However unlike adults, she says, children have no ability to filter out or process what the movie is teaching. They are malleable.
A study published in 2010 in "Prevention Science" showed that R rated and violent movies cause children to try alcohol at an early age because of its glorification, as well as becoming desensitized and violent.
Even Hollywood producers express concern. Stephen Simon, who is behind films like "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure", said that children should not be forced to watch R rated movies.
“I do not believe in censorship. I’ve produced ‘R’ rated movies myself. I just don’t think that little children should be forced by their parents to experience the kind of violence and/or profanity and/or explicit sexuality in ‘R’ rated films,” Simon stated in a blog entry.
What if your child sees an R rated movie?
If you do let your child watch an R rated movie, make sure to sit down and discuss with them what they saw and how to appropriately react to it. Discuss character’s actions and why or why not it is OK. Completely blocking out all violent material will be a useless task, so it is better to have open conversations. A happy medium can be reached, with the understanding that discussion of the material will follow.
“Sometimes, I will tell their parents that they want to monitor what they’re watching and discuss the content, so that the child will be able to process it,” Ms. West says. “Some of my children tried blocking that from their kids. I didn’t agree with that and I still don’t agree with that because that just made them want to see it more. Then they go somewhere else to see it and you can’t monitor them.”
“You watch the movies with them. You get good movies, you get good shows, you watch shows that are good for them (and) you talk about it with them,” Ms. Estes says. “You do it as a family. That’s probably the best that you can do.”
R rated movies are not appropriate for most children for a reason. The scenes and language used in these movies is impressionable on young children. Even for some young teens, these movies are hard to process and should be discussed thoroughly. If you ever are in doubt, watch the movie yourself first before letting your children discover it.