Let me say that I’m really lucky for the most part. I’ve got two boys who are both healthy, smart, and have bright futures in front of them. They’re also the same rough age gap that my brother and I are. That means they’ve got a love/hate relationship. They play with each other and pick on each other too. One’s 11+ and the other’s 15. So far they don’t have major entertainment conflicts yet. My oldest is able to handle more mature content and the younger loves Pokémon. Still, movies used to be easy but they take more work these days.
When I was a kid, there seemed to be a clear delineation between PG and R. Firefox was an easy sell. Conan the Barbarian, not so much (except for one friend of mine). Today we have PG-13 which should make things easier but it doesn’t. It adds this whole grey zone of parental discretion which I have to sort out. Many times, movie marketers even have a harder time sorting out their intended audience than I do. And they’re spending money supporting billion dollar franchises.
This summer is a fantastic example. For the most part, PG-13 this year has meant superheroes. My younger son loves them. We’ve been playing a superhero fighting game on the Playstation (Injustice) for weeks and enjoy the fun. It’s comic-booky and really doesn’t seem like something which will cause long-term psychological scars. A movie like Iron Man 3 or The Avengers isn’t too big a stretch for him. At the same time, the recent Batman movies have been pretty gritty and Man of Steel deals with some major destruction. These have been on the bubble for content or over it. I remember a review for The Dark Knight which said something to the effect of “If you don’t want your 14 year old to see a movie with a 14 year held held at gunpoint then don’t take them to see it.” Does that oversimplify things or is it just plain common sense?
Today, I went with a good friend and my 15-year-old to see World War Z. It’s also a PG-13 movie. Just like Man of Steel, there’s some grittiness to it and the threat of global destruction. At the same time, it’s definitely not comic-booky. Not at all. I’m not going to go into any plot spoilers, but it’s a zombie movie. Man of Steel has super-powered aliens and the threat of planetary destruction in a sci-fi fashion. There’s no real world threat of Kryptonians destroying our planet. If there were, what the heck. It’s not like we live in the fictional city of Metropolis or Smallville, Kansas anyway. But WWZ has a family sneaking through apartments trying to avoid getting eaten or zombified (it’s in the previews, no spoilers here). That’s personal and up close. Then there’s something like Hunger Games. Look at the premise of the first book and the entire series. It’s PG-13 too. I have no earthly idea how they’ll even film the final show. Not a clue. Katniss spends the entire novel in PTSD and coping with it through drugs. No exaggeration.
Somewhere in here it is our jobs as parents to draw the line between what’s appropriate and what’s not. Not just movies. TV. Video games. The Internet. All of it. I remember years ago being at a friend’s house and we were talking movies with their 5-year-old daughter. Her favorite movie at the time wasn’t Little Mermaid. It was The Matrix. It’s certainly a cool movie but I don’t know how a kid in kindergarten grasps the meaning of “There is no spoon”, much less what The Matrix actually is and the implications.
Don’t rely on a label to do your parenting for you. I’d love to think my 15-year-old son isn’t ready for WWZ but he is. I also know that he and his brother are OK for Man of Steel. However, Man of Steel’s previews alternated between Turbo, 300 Rise of an Empire, Despicable Me 2,and other shows which flip-flopped between G/PG and R. That tells me that even the people who made the movies don’t really know who they made them for nor who should see them. Don’t abdicate common sense for marketing hype. If you think a child in first grade might be freaked out by the previews then don’t take them. I’m sure I’m overprotective in some aspects but, dammit, that’s part of my job.