CMCH Suggestions: Use Media Ratings to Help Make Decisions

People are often under the impression that media ratings are decided by the government. This is not true. The creators of games, movies and TV shows apply the ratings to their own products.

Currently, there are three separate rating systems for movies, TV, and video games. All of these systems are mixtures of ratings based on age and warnings about content. Between the different systems for each media, and the confusion of what each rating means, studies have found that parents are often confused about how to use the systems to help them make decisions for their children.

IBecause the current rating systems are not rigorous or scientifically-based, CMCH suggests that parents use them merely as a guide. Parents should also do their homework before making purchasing or parenting decisions about media. Below is more information about each ratings systems.


Movie Ratings

The rating agency for movies is the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).

One of the main areas of research on movie ratings is called "ratings creep" - the idea that over time, ratings have gotten more relaxed, allowing more inappropriate content into movies rated for younger audiences.

Researchers have found that over the past 10 years, violent and sexual content increased in PG and PG-13 rated movies, and that profanity and sexual content have increased in R rated movies. (see this study) An analysis of G-rated movies found that even these include a fair amount of violence, with 100% of the 74 movies studied containing a violent act. (see this study)


Television Ratings

Television ratings are assigned by the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board.

One study of TV ratings found that while the age ratings appear to match the content well, the descriptors for language, violence, and sex are not used when they should be. (see this study)

Perhaps one of the most useful functions of the TV ratings is that they work with a V-Chip, which can control the type of television programs that can be watched in your household. If you purchased a TV since 2000, it has a V-chip. This device (probably called "parental controls" in your television’s manual and onscreen menu) allows you to set up filters to block certain types of programs. When you program the V-chip, use this opportunity to discuss media content with your child and decide together what shows you want to allow into your home.


Video Game Ratings

Video games are rated by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).

Research on video game ratings has showed that there is more violence in games than most people would think based on their ratings. In studies of Teen and Mature rated games, researchers found violence and substance use in games where those content descriptors were not listed on the box. (see Teen-rated games study, see Mature-rated games study)

These researchers also conducted an analysis of E-rated games, which are approved for any audience, and found that many of these games contained violence, killing, and the use of weapons. (see E-rated games study)


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