Movie and TV Ratings

Age-Appropriate Media: Can You Trust Movie and TV Ratings?

Page Content

​​By: Cori Cross, MD, FAAP

Did you know movie, tv, and video game ratings today aren't the same as when we were kids? It's true—and it's no wonder why we often find ourselves thinking, "Did they really just say that on primetime TV?"

Studies show government and industry movie ratings have become more lenient over time and allow more violent and sexually explicit content into films. What these ratings mean and whether they actually can tell you what's appropriate for your child, isn't always clear. Even movies with the same rating released in the same year can differ widely in the amount and type of potentially offensive content.

What Parents Can Do:

To help you navigate these ratings systems, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers the following tips.

  • Learn the rating lingo. Raters often use quotas or threshold levels for scenes with violence, sex and swearing, that, once reached, push a movie into a higher rating bracket. Although this may make sense for filmmakers, it is often difficult to navigate for parents who may not want their child exposed to certain content, such as vulgar language. For them, even one "f-word" may be too many.

  • Co-view when possible. The AAP strongly recommends co-viewing media with your children as often as you can. Children's media should be age-appropriate and preferably reinforce a family's values. With the sheer amount of media children are exposed to, however, it's unrealistic for parents to pre-screen everything their child watches, and co-viewing media may not always be possible.

  • Family-friendly resources. When co-viewing isn't an option, there are reputable, independent parent resources such as Common Sense Media (CSM) that rate movies, television shows, video games, apps, websites, music, and books. The CSM website and app give in-depth reviews which allow parents a better sense of what to expect. They even have suggestions for follow-up discussions parents may want to have with their children.