Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Daughters in November 2000.
As a preschooler your daughter watched the Disney classics, all of them rated G. Then around age 8 or 9, she started watching PG movies. Perhaps some of them contained unwelcome material but nothing terrifically shocking. Now at 11, she tells you she’s the only girl in her whole school who didn’t see the PG-13 Titanic years ago, and she simply has to see X-Men because all of her friends will. Welcome to the world of PG-13.
As a logical and loving parent, you might be tempted to ask your daughter, “Why are you rushing to watch movies that contain disturbing stuff?” But it won’t do you much good to ask. As you’ve probably surmised by now, X-Men of any other high-profile PG-13 film is more than a movie to your daughter. It is a shared experience that bonds her to her friends. Not sharing that experience makes her feel like an outsider. This puts tremendous pressure on a girl to push beyond the relatively safe territory of PG movies. But what will PG-13 offer her? Here’s the official wording from the Motion Picture Academy of America: “Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.” Translated, that means any or all of the following—adult themes, violence, nudity, sensuality and bad language.
Asking the Right Questions
Where do ratings come from? A panel of parents assigns ratings to movies based on what they think the average American parent would think. Now, if everyone in America held the same values, this system would be useful. But in reality, every family has different values. And no two girls mature at the same rate, either, making our decisions even more complicated. Clearly, the movie rating alone doesn’t give you all the information you’ll need to decide what movies your daughter should see. I’d like to suggest two questions that may.
Where is my daughter in her development? X-Men, for example, could be seen as a story about tolerance by a preteen who thinks abstractly. But it could be overwhelming for a girl who takes the characters’ powers literally instead of metaphorically. Many kids think abstractly at 12 or 13; others cannot. Most girls at this age think abstractly in some situations but concretely in others.
What are the values in our household? What kinds of stories do you believe work for or against your daughter’s healthy development? Look hard at the movie she wants to see. Read the reviews and go online. You’ll find detailed film descriptions at www.family.org. If you decide the answer is now, don’t apologize for your decision. It’s your job to bring enriching experiences into your daughter’s life and steer her away from harmful ones. Try, “I know you really wanted to see that move, but it contains too much sex (or crude language or violence). Our family simply can’t endorse that.”
What if you give in and let her see a movie you later wish you had prohibited? While prolonged or repeated viewing does have a negative effect, one or two movies that turn out to be less than appropriate won’t traumatize an otherwise healthy preteen. Forgive yourself your mistakes; we all make them.
On the Fence?
Still can’t decide? View the questionable movie with your daughter. If your choice was good, you’ll have plenty to talk about when the film is over. If it wasn’t a good choice, you’ll have an opportunity to speak against the attitudes you found offensive. Either way, you’ll get to spend a couple extra hours with your daughter and that’s a real treat, too.
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