PG's all good, right? Sorting out which movies are right for your kid

Time flies, especially when you stroll down your cinema memory lane.

It may seem just a year or two ago you were wrangling with your own parents over whether you could see the R-rated  "Breakfast Club"or "Kill Bill Vol. 1," now you're the parent trying to figure out if "Transylvania 3" will scare your three-year-old or if seeing "Deadpool"with some friends will scar your 13-year-old for life.

If the recent furor over the movie "Eighth Grade" getting an R rating (and theaters across the country declining to enforce it for free screenings one night to allow all ages to see it) caught your attention, you may be at least a little aware of the ratings.

What you might not know is that they've changed in recent years.

"Studies show government and industry movie ratings have become more lenient over time and allow more violent and sexually explicit content into films," according to Cori Cross, a pediatrician at Children's Hospital Los Angeles and an official American Academy of Pediatrics spokesperson. "What these ratings mean and whether they actually can tell you what's appropriate for your child, isn't always clear," she said in a blog post. "Even movies with the same rating released in the same year can differ widely in the amount and type of potentially offensive content."

And there are plenty of findings that emphasize the benefits of limiting both television time for their kids (on any screen, even the smart phone) and a child's exposure to such film mainstays as violence.

So how does a responsible parent figure out which movies are appropriate for their kids?

The first step is getting reacquainted with the standard movie ratings put out by the Motion Picture Association of America's Classification and Ratings Administration, which comes up with the ratings via a board made up of an independent group of experts, all of them parents. The basics:

G = Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.

PG = Parents urged to give "parental guidance." May contain some material parents might not like for their young children.

PG-13 = Parents are urged to be cautious. Some material may be inappropriate for pre-teenagers.

R = Restricted. Contains some adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.

If the minimal ratings with a bit of extra description are enough for you, you can keep up with the latest using the handy weekly ratings bulletin online issued by CARA

It covers not just the rating, but gives the "why," for example, "Reign Of The Supermen" - Rated PG-13 for sequences of action violence." The Twitter account (@FilmRatings) for MPAA does the same. A sample tweet: "#SlenderMan" is rated PG-13 for disturbing images, sequences of terror, thematic elements and language including some crude sexual references."

But bear in mind that just skimming through the Twitter or online ratings might not be enough.

"Official government or industry parental guidance ratings offer parents some general guidance on which shows, movies, and other media may be appropriate for your child's age," according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. "But for most families, they don't replace sitting down with your children and watching what they're watching. Or when that's not possible, getting a heads-up from reputable, parent-friendly resources about what they'll see."

AAP also advised parents to delve further to 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," it warned. "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."

Common Sense Media rates movies with more in-depth reviews that include detailed summaries about what parents may want to know about sex; language; consumerism; drinking, drug and smoking; positive role models and representation and positive messages.

Even the rating sites like advised parents to look beyond its own ratings and adopt these "screenwise" strategies:

Do due diligence. Along with understanding what the rating letters mean, parents should read up on any movie their kids are going to see to make sure it contains the type of content you're comfortable allowing your children to watch, CARA advised.

Help your child choose. Even if you're not planning to sit through the latest Transformers flick with your child, make sure you know what your kid will be watching and discuss the content and subject matter together.

Start a conversation afterwards. "Reinforce the positive values of a movie by sitting down with your children after the show and discussing what they saw," CARA suggested. "Use the movie as an educational aid, clearing up any misunderstandings and sharing new ideas." This is also a great way to determine if any portions of the movie scared your child or made them feel awkward, which is great information to absorb for the next go 'round.

For a streamlined approach to picking movies for the whole fam, consider one of the many compilation lists from places you trust. Two good ones to start with: Pop Sugar Australia's "'80s Movies You NEED to Show Your Kids Today" and Commonsense Media's "50 Movies All Kids Should Watch Before They're 12," broken down by "all ages," ages 5-7, 8-9 and 10-12.

What the ratings mean for parents of toddlers

Just because a movie is rated G doesn't mean it's fair game for toddlers, even if it's inconvenient to leave a family member behind for the movies, whether you're at home or in the theater.

According to Baby Center's guidelines for toddlers, even within G-rated films it's best to stick with simple programming. "Slow-paced programs give small children time to think and absorb," BC advised. "Choose straightforward, age-appropriate shows that emphasize interactivity. Ideal shows inspire your child to makes sounds, say words, sing and dance."

Films or shows with lots of random activity, like that in action/adventure cartoons, confuse children, and scary shows are too intense. In addition to choosing shows endorsed by such watchdogs as the Coalition for Quality Children's Media, make sure you're actively deciding what your child will watch, not just leaving her to drift along with whatever's on next on Disney Junior.

"Check reviews from trusted sources like Common Sense Media, and preview shows before watching with your toddler," BC added. "To keep your child's brain from going on autopilot as he watches, break up viewing into 10- to 15-minute increments."

And when the show is over, turn off the screen and move along to your next energetic activity, family meal or quiet time. After all, your time with your kids moves too fast to spend too much of it watching even the most appropriate movies.

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