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Last winter, my 6-year-old son and I were exiting a showing of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip when we stumbled across an amusing display in the theater lobby featuring a red costumed character with ninja swords promoting the movie Deadpool. “Cool!” my son exclaimed jumping onto a seat built into the display, “Can we go see this movie next?!”

As someone who had read Deadpool comic books, I knew this movie wasn’t going to be an appropriate show for children because of expletive-filled dialogue, sexually explicit content, and lots of violence. So there was no way my son was going to go see it; but I can see how parents could be caught off guard by a movie starring a character that visually appears to be a mix between a costumed superhero and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle when their kids asked to go see it. In fact, when I went to go see Deadpool with one of my buddies, we witnessed numerous parents who brought children awkwardly ushering their kids out of the theater as the R-rated movie progressed.

As parents, how can we make sure that the movies our children want to watch are age appropriate for them? Here are a few tips:

Know the Rating: The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rates films shown at theaters across the U.S. and Canada. Nowadays, most children’s movies, like The Road Chip, have a PG rating because studios include content meant to appeal to both adults and children, enhancing the attractiveness of the movie to the largest possible audience. I was so impressed that The Peanuts Movie maintained a G (General Audience) rating while being an incredible film that adults and kids can mutually enjoy. Unfortunately, that is an exception rather than the standard when it comes to planning a family outing to the movie theater with children in tow. So many movies targeted toward families with young children have a PG rating suggesting “parental guidance,” so it’s easy to become dulled to movie ratings; but seeing a PG-13, R, or NC-17 rating should trigger a big warning that there is something really beyond the norm to lookout for.

Parental Guidance: A film’s MPAA ratings will normally include a short, one-sentence explanation for the classification. For example, Disney’s Zootopia received a PG rating for thematic elements, rude humor, and action. As a parent, reading that description means there may be scenes that could be too scary, crude, or violent for your child. Every kid is unique and as a parent you know better than anyone else the emotional triggers that your child is susceptible to. Is your child averse to loud noises, easily scared, imitates violent behavior, or is dealing with a trauma related to the movie plot? What could be one child’s worst nightmare could be no big deal for another, so parental guidance is crucial in identifying the red flags within a movie’s rating description that can help children avoid what could be troubling scenes for them.

What To Look Out For: According to Darby Fox, a child and family therapist with more than 20 years of experience in the field, there are four important questions parents should ask about movies their children under the age of 13 want to see:

  1. Is it sending a positive message?
  2. Is it violent?
  3. Is there sexual content?
  4. Does it show drinking, drug use, or smoking?

“Before age 13, sexual themes can be very scary and creepy for kids,” says Fox. “Also, children are taught behaviors like smoking are wrong and bad and we don’t want to show them movies that portray it is really OK to do these things because that sends a very confusing message.” She emphasizes that no matter what a child’s age is, parents need to screen the content in movies and understand the messages a movie is sending to young viewers that could impact children.

Movie Reviews: If you are concerned about not knowing enough about a movie before letting a child go see it, wait until some of the movie reviews are published and check them out. There are a number of websites that provide reviews on the age appropriateness of movies for children, including The Toy Insider, Common Sense Media, Kids-in-Mind, Parent Previews, Box Office Mom, and more.

Watch It Yourself: Movie trailers are readily available online now to view through sites like YouTube. Make a habit of perusing these movie trailers so you have an understanding of the type of movies your kids are watching. If a movie may seem to have questionable content, see it first without your child and let them go later if you believe it is alright for him or her to view. Another option is to wait for the movie to come out on home video and watch it before your kids do to determine if it is appropriate for a family movie night on the living room television set.

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Movies can be an incredibly enjoyable source of family entertainment. While movies can be a lot of fun, as a parent it is important to never let your guard down so that your children aren’t exposed to situations that are troublesome or are outside your family’s comfort zone. Researching the movies your kids want to watch in advance is an investment of your time that could save you, and them, from tears, trauma and trouble later on.

Tim writes about the adventures of parenting from a Dad’s perspective at

Moving Rating Guide (created by the Motion Picture Association of America)

G (General Audience): All ages admitted. Nothing that would offend parents for viewing by children.
PG (Parental Guidance): Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents urged to give “parental guidance.” May contain some material parents may not like for their young children.
PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned): Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents urged to be cautious.
R (Restricted): Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains adult material. Parents are urged to learn more about the film before taking their young children with them.
NC-17 (Adult Only): Children are not admitted. Clearly adult content.