In Parenting

Movie Ratings – A Guide for Parents

Movie ratings vary from country to country. While some countries use voluntary movie rating systems, others have government-enforced ones that limit who can see a movie. Within the U.S., the movie ratings system is voluntary, and parents can use this system to determine whether a movie is appropriate for their child or teen. Since these ratings may seem difficult to understand, here is a guide that parents can use to decide upon the movies their children and teens should watch.

A History of the Movie Ratings System

The rating system used today was first established in 1968. Previously, moral censorship guidelines, or the Hays Code, determined if a movie could be distributed based on whether it was ruled to be “moral.” Jack Valenti, chairman of the MPAA, replaced this code with a ratings system that focused on parents. The idea of this system was not to approve or disapprove of movies, but to educate parents with the information they needed to make movie-viewing decisions that worked for their family. Originally, the PG_13 rating was not included, but it was introduced in 1984 to expand the rating system’s scope.

Today, the Classification & Ratings Administration (CARA) has a rating board that is made up of parents, and this independent group provides cautionary warnings to parents about movie content in the form of ratings. Not only does CARA offer parents with letter ratings, but they also offer brief descriptions of the details behind the rating of a movie.

Understanding Movie Ratings

Movies offer many benefits to kids and teens. They allow kids to explore new ideas, cultures, and places. However, parents need to make sure that their children’s movie experience is enriching and positive. Movie ratings are specifically designed to help parents decide what they should allow their children to view. Parents can access these ratings ahead of time, making it easier to figure out whether a movie is appropriate for their kids and teens. When these ratings are assigned, multiple factors, such as sex, drug use, language, and violence, are taken into consideration. With the help of ratings, parents have the information they need to make informed viewing decisions for the whole family.

Movie ratings, whether for cinemas or home DVDs, are made up of three different components:

  • The Rating – First, parents will see the rating of the movie in large letters. This rating shows the level of different types of content in the movie, which can help parents decide if it is suitable for their children or teens to watch.
  • The Rating Definition – At the bottom of the rating, a rating definition is included. This helps to provide parents with a more detailed explanation of the rating assigned to the movie.
  • The Rating Descriptors – According to, the movie rating descriptors use language that is unique to the movie. This information conveys the elements in the movie that resulted in the current rating.

What do the acronyms in movie ratings mean?

Currently, five different ratings are included in the movie ratings system. Here’s a glance at how each one is defined:

  • G Rating – G rated movies are approved for all audiences and all ages. G-Rated movies cannot include any nudity, violence, sex, theme, or language that would offend parents who have younger children viewing the movie. However, this rating does not make the movie a “children’s” movie or give a movie a “certificate of approval,” according to the Rules for Film Ratings.
  • PG Rating – The PG stands for “Parental Guidance” and this rating means that parental guidance is suggested. Parents should investigate the movie further before deciding to allow children to view the movie. PG-rated movies may include some violence, brief nudity, or some profanity, but they do not include drug use and the elements are not considered to be so intense that a stronger rating is needed.
  • PG-13 Rating – A PG-13 rating means that the movie could include material that isn’t suitable for kids under the age of 13. While this movie does not reach the R-rating, it may have nudity, language, violence, adult activities, themes, or sensuality that goes above the PG rating. Nudity in a PG-13 movie is usually not sexually-oriented.
  • R Rating – R-rated movie rules require that children under the age of 17 have an adult guardian or parent with them. An R-rated movie usually has some type of adult material, such as adult activity, persistent or intense violence, drug abuse, adult themes, hard language, or sexually-oriented nudity. R-rated movies have a very strong warning and it is generally recommended to avoid letting young children see these types of movies.
  • NC-17 Rating – The NC-17 rating is given to movies that most parents would deem too adult for children and teens under the age of 17. However, this does not mean that the movie is pornographic or obscene. This rating merely means that the movie is only appropriate for adult audiences. According to Time Magazine, the NC-17 rating is given more often for violence than for sexual content.

What Happened to X-Rated Movies?

The X Rating was a part of the movie ratings system that came out in the late 1960s. X rating meant that children under the age of 17 could not be admitted to the movie. However, over time, movie makers began to complain that the X rating was categorizing artistic adult films with hardcore porn. The pornography industry was beginning to use the X sign on its products, and X-rated movies began to get a certain stigma. In 1990, the rating was changed to the NC-17 rating.

Should Movie Ratings for Kids and Teens Be Respected?

The big question for parents is whether they should respect the movie ratings offered today. In some countries, movie ratings are enforced, so this must be taken into consideration. However, many countries leave the decision up to the parents.

When parents are deciding whether to respect current ratings, it is important to consider the effects of violence on children. According to WebMD, there is a lot of evidence that shows how exposing children to violent media content has harmful effects. Exposure to violence may increase the likelihood of aggressive emotions, behavior and thoughts. Surprisingly, studies cited by WebMD note that over 12% of children between 10-14 are watching violent, R-rated movies, which makes the exposure of kids to violence a serious consideration for parents.

Studies that have taken a specific look at adolescents who watch R-rated movies have found that the type of content seen in these movies may result in an increase in risky behavior. According to, a study published in Prevention Science found that teenagers who watched R-rated movies were more likely to abuse alcohol. The study also found that these movies increase the tendency to seek sensations, thus increasing the risk of risky behaviors.

These studies indicate the obvious fact: the movies kids and teens view can have a significant impact on their lives. For this reason, it is essential for parents to consider movie ratings and make wise decisions when deciding on the movies their kids are allowed to watch. Movie ratings can be an excellent way for parents to ensure that they have the needed information to keep kids from watching movies that may be inappropriate for their age.

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