There’s a running argument in my family over what constitutes “violence” in entertainment.
My 7-year-old son is fond of saying such things as, “That movie/TV show/video game is OK for me, Mom. It’s violent, but there’s no blood in it.”
My stance – not surprisingly, being as I’m the mom – is that violent is violent. If a character dies of some trauma, the presence or absence of red liquid is beside the point.
My husband and I, both leaning to the nostalgic side, like watching movies we grew up with in the 80s with our son. What’s interesting to me is that the PG movies I watched as a kid seem to have far more swear words than their newer counterparts, but far less violence. Think of 80s TV shows like “The A-Team.” There was a gun fight in almost every episode, but virtually nobody ever got shot.
My son’s limit is PG movies. For him to watch a PG-13 – which is what superhero movies tend to be rated and what he really wants to watch – my husband and/or I have to watch it first.
Now I have a new argument to back me up. A study set to be published in the December issue of Pediatrics found the level of violence, particularly gun violence, in PG-13 movies is rising. In fact, the number of violent gun-related scenes in the most popular PG-13 movies now exceeds the number of such encounters in the most popular R-rated films.
The researchers examined 945 movies, all in the top 30 in domestic box-office returns. They found that violence in American films as a whole doubled between 1950 and 2012 – no shocker there. But it is surprising, to me, anyway, that PG-13 movies today can be more violent than older R-rated movies. Gun violence in PG-13 movies tripled from 1985 to 2012.
It’s worth noting this study says as much about our culture as it does about Hollywood. The movies that were studied were all in the top 30 in box-office returns. Violence sells, which is why studios continue to make violent movies, and to expand the market they’re selling to.
I don’t see that demand slackening anytime soon, but maybe it is time to rethink the ratings system. I’m no psychologist, and this is not where I’m going to take sides on the controversy of what impact violent media has on kids. But I am a parent, and frankly, I don’t want my kids looking at it.
What that means for me is that I have to be more vigilant. I can’t trust a movie’s rating will tell me what I want to know; that’s why my son is rarely among the first to see a new movie, because his dad and I have to see it first. I also rely on websites like commonsensemedia.org, which offers an opinion-free breakdown of exactly what is in a movie or video game, and reviews from professionals, parents and kids.
In the end, I’m responsible for what kind of media my kids are exposed to, and I’m OK with that. But I have to admit, it would be nice if I could at least trust the tools that were created to help parents control that.