Ratings Reality: Who rates our media and what that means for children

Ratings Reality: Who rates our media and what that means for children 150 150 Mediatrics

MovietheaterCMCH staff member Kristelle Lavallee contributed the following post to Thriving, Boston Children’s Hospital’s pediatric health blog.

Are you looking to take the family to a movie but aren’t sure whether your child should see The Hunger Games (PG-13) or Bully (unrated)? If you base the decision on the Motion Picture Association of American (MPAA) ratings, the answer seems pretty cut and dry—“maybe” to Hunger Games, and “no” to Bully. But are the movie ratings the best guide to making healthy media choices for your children?

Based on the best-selling novel, The Hunger Games is a fantasy story where teenagers are pitted against each other in a battle to the death broadcast on live TV. In contrast, Bully is a “slice of life” documentary about peer-on-peer bullying in American schools.

Both movies center on children and teenagers, but the fictional Hunger Games, portraying “intense violent thematic material and disturbing images” (MPAA’s description) was given a PG-13 rating, while the documentary Bully with “some language” (MPAA again) was rated R. The producers of Bully knew that accepting an R rating would greatly limit the film’s impact as an educational tool for young viewers, so they chose to release it unrated. But when a film is released without an MPAA rating, it comes at a price: Fewer theaters are willing to show it, and those that do will treat it the same way they treat films unrated for extreme violence or sex. Continue reading here.