Deciding whether a PG-13 movie is suitable for a child aged 13, 14, or older is much a matter of parental discretion. PG-13 now comes with the warning label: PARENTS STRONGLY CAUTIONED. Some material may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13. Yet some material in PG-13 films would be considered inappropriate by parents for children over the age of 13, and other films rated PG-13 are viewed by a large audience of children, like the first Pirates of the Caribbean, with minimal objection from parents.
One of the difficulties in determining whether a PG-13 movie is really suited to an adolescent is that the rating system now employed by the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) can be somewhat injudiciously applied. It leans more toward making films R-rated that have anything beyond small amounts of male posterior nudity or references to sexual behavior, and is likely to include a great deal of violence, as long as bloodshed is minimal. Subject matter deemed mature may also warrant an R rating. Reference to drugs almost always turns a PG-13 into an R. However, if depiction of drug abuse is meant as an example of self-destruction, it might be beneficial for some teens to view the occasionally R-rated film while still foregoing some of the PG-13 rated films.
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If you thinks of Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy as examples of a PG-13 films, you will see a tremendous amount of violent content, including beheadings, the volley of human heads over the wall of Gondor, stabbings, disembowelment, strangling, scenes of torture, arrows being shot directly into heads, and the list continues. Peter Jackson achieved the PG-13 rating for the films because the violence is termed “fantasy violence” and the violent scenes are relatively bloodless. When bloodless killings are used, especially in a fantasy context (humans versus orcs), then the violence generally does not warrant an R rating from the MPAA. This doesn’t necessarily make it suitable for all viewers.
Based on Jackson’s film alone, many argue that most parents will not find the PG-13 rating a sufficient guide for deciding whether a teen should watch the film. Some teenagers seem okay with the violence, particularly if they’ve read Tolkien’s books. Others may be deeply disturbed or sickened by the violence. In some cases, parents decide a child is simply not old enough to view the films, even though the PG-13 label suggests it’s fine for adolescents.
Many critics of the current rating system suggest that the PG-13 label still falls far too short, even when the film describes what one is likely to see. Some films now say “rated PG-13 for fantasy violence,” or for brief nudity, mature themes, mild drug use, or intense sequences. This might be a partial guide to determining whether a child 13 or older should be allowed to view a film.
When adolescents are allowed to view PG-13 films without parental input, this suggests that parents have agreed with the MPAA about what constitutes acceptable content for teens. In fact some parents allow children to view any film, regardless of rating. Not all parents agree on this matter. For moral or ethical reasons, a parent may decide the MPAA rating of PG-13 is insufficient to determining the suitability of a film.
The reality of the PG-13 rating, and all movie ratings is that they are based on the concept that people of a certain age should be able to tolerate the content in a film. Yet not all adults choose to see all films. Many adults who can see any film prefer not to see some of them, like those people who avoid slasher films or very scary films because they don’t want to be scared or disgusted. Even films with a PG-13 rating like The Ring or The Exorcism of Emily Rose are considered extremely frightening by adults, which questions the wisdom of allowing adolescents to watch them.
Both children and adults cannot unsee what they saw, and some people can be haunted by especially violent or frightening film images. So the question of whether a 14 year old can see a film is less important than whether the teen should view a film. Previewing films, or consulting a trusted family-oriented website that provides detailed reviews of a rating before allowing children of any age to see them is likely a better guide than that offered by the MPAA.