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A Musing Pediatrician

Common Sense Ratings

Gregory Lawton, MD, Pediatrics, General, 09:16AM Dec 7, 2013

Call me crazy, but I don’t think an eight year old needs to watch the depiction of an head shot exit wound any more than same said eight year old benefits from seeing that a “home run” doesn’t have anything to do with baseball.

This was my initial reaction after reading a recent piece in the New York Times concerning television and movie ratings for sex, violence, and profanity.  The piece is based on research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Annenberg Public Policy Center.  Essentially, the findings boil down to two points.  One, since 1950, depictions of violence (especially involving guns) has doubled in movies.  Two, movies depicting violent exchanges are more likely to receive a PG-13 rating compared to a movie which has more sexual content.  In other words, guns get PG-13 while sex gets an R.

Are we really surprised and is there reason to be concerned?  No and yes.

Sex sells.  So does violence.  Duh.  However, as pediatricians we have an obligation to speak out for what is in the best interest of children.  The big problem I have with movies has more to do with how and to whom they are marketed than with their content.  The research points to the trend to downplay violent acts.  The ratings let more violence “slip past.”  The target demographic gets younger.  The end result is a movie like the Avengers, an ultraviolent superhero movie, gets a PG-13 rating but is advertised to children as young as four and five.  Factor in toy and costume tie-ins, and the advertising synergy can make for a great deal of pressure on parents. 

This is my first point:  rating systems should work in such a way as to properly align content with appropriate ages.  Without getting into the developmental specifics, the technological innovations of theater special effects make it more challenging for younger minds to differentiate reality from make believe.  Want proof?  Show an eight year old an original Tom & Jerry cartoon.  Pretty easy to tell it’s not real, right?  By targeting younger kids with more violent movies, the entertainment industry not only blurs the line between fantasy and reality and attempts to make it more difficult for parents to make knowledgeable and informed decisions.  As pediatricians, we should be alert to the targeted advertising to younger age groups and push for rating systems to consistent.  It’s a tall task: The Pediatrician v. The Machine.

A more achievable goal is my second point; if the industry is going to do what it is going to do, then at least we, as clinicians who care for children, can give parents meaningful information with which they can make informed decisions. 

Kids in Mind is a website that rates movies on scales of 1-10 in three categories, sex, violence, and profanity.  They also provide a very thorough description so that parents have an accurate idea concerning the content.  Word to the wise, however.  The actual descriptions can be somewhat graphic so don’t let junior read over your shoulder.

Common Sense Media reviews movies, smartphone apps, video games, and more.  While less descriptive than Kids in Mind, it makes a greater attempt to frame the various issues through topics for discussion.  It rates media with an age number, based loosely on how appropriate the material is for a given age group. 

There is no perfect solution.  However, providing parents with the tools to navigate the confusing world out there as it relates to children is our job.  Telling parents about these websites is one small way we can make a difference.

About This Blog

My main job, as a general pediatrician, is “to explain, to reassure, and to know when to refer,” because most of what I see is a variation of normal. This blog discusses the art and science of pediatrics as well as the challenges and rewards of seeing newborns through to adulthood. It also looks at events in the world and how those events affect children, parents, and, the pediatricians who care for them. Look for it twice a month.

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Disclosure: L. Gregory Lawton, MD, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.Poll: Do you feel you have the time, expertise, and materials necessary to manage concussions in your patients? Yes - I have this now.|Not yet - but I will be getting this soon.|No - I don't feel prepared.|I don't think this is an area for the general pediatrician or family practice doctor.|

  • Gregory Lawton

    Dr. Gregory Lawton is a pediatrician with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). He attended Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia on a scholarship from the US Air Force and completed his pediatric residency at a teaching affiliate of the University of California, Davis at Travis Air Force Base, California.

    From 2000 to 2003, he served as the pediatrician at Hanscom AFB in Massachusetts.  

    He exchanged the polyester Air Force uniform for cotton fiber in 2003 when he moved to the Philadelphia suburbs to work for the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.  He sees patients at CHOP Care HighPoint.

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