Are All PG-13 Rated Films Suitable for Fourteen Year Olds?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

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.

A parent may disagree the MPAA rating of a movie based on moral or ethical reasons.
A parent may disagree the MPAA rating of a movie based on moral or ethical reasons.

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.

Films with a PG-13 rating can be extremely scary, which questions the wisdom of allowing adolescents to watch them.
Films with a PG-13 rating can be extremely scary, which questions the wisdom of allowing adolescents to watch them.

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.

Some material in a PG-13 film may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.
Some material in a PG-13 film may be inappropriate for children under the age of 13.

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.

Graphic violence can warrant a PG-13 or R rating for a movie, depending on the severity.
Graphic violence can warrant a PG-13 or R rating for a movie, depending on the severity.

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.

Films that depict teens engaging in flirtatious behavior might not meet with parental approval.
Films that depict teens engaging in flirtatious behavior might not meet with parental approval.

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.

Deciding whether a PG-13 movie is appropriate for a child is a matter of parental discretion.
Deciding whether a PG-13 movie is appropriate for a child is a matter of parental discretion.

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.

Parents may have to contend with peer pressure when deciding on if a film is suitable for their teen.
Parents may have to contend with peer pressure when deciding on if a film is suitable for their teen.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon940738

Who cares? Most 14 year olds are already watching R rated movies. They already know what sex is, so how bad could it get?

Also, while I grew up in the United States, I am currently attending college in Germany. Here in Germany, sex is not so much of a bad thing to show to kids, because sex is natural. I think it should be that way in the United States, too.

wisepoet

I think it's all about the maturity of the child. There are some PG-13 movies where I'm just thinking, "this should be R," actually. Something that bothers me is the Lifetime Family Movie movies or whatever *aren't* family friendly half the time. It's crazy.

anon191493

I think there will always be some question about the appropriate age for a PG-13 movie. The professionals who give the ratings are obviously not 13 year olds, so the best they can do is assume an average 13 year old can handle the level of violence, sexuality or adult language in the movie.

Parents of 14-16 year olds should know their child's basic maturity level well enough to make a final decision. Some movies with a PG-13 rating aren't actually all that disturbing to older grade school children. They've seen worse on television.

I have seen some PG-13 movies, however, that I personally would have rated a soft R, mostly because of sex jokes or excessively violent battle scenes. It's probably much more difficult now for modern movie makers to make a popular movie that would clearly be G or PG rated.

anon154303

Seems to me that Hollywood is more interested in deciding what the American adult public wants to see, let alone what our children need to see! I very rarely go to to movies, and even less often take my grandchildren to the movies. If I do I make sure that the movies I see and they see are appropriate! Really, with the influence of the movie makers, filth has become common place. Garbage in, garbage out!

hyrax53

@recapitulate, One other thing neither you nor aaaCookie mentioned that also goes into account is increased accessibility. While parents, and my own included when I was a teen, like to feel they have control over what their kids watch, these days they have very little.

Many movies that parents might not want their children to watch are available on the internet or even on television, and rental stores and even services like NetFlix are not always very good at determining the age of their customers and/or protecting kids. However, it is still worth it, in my opinion, to be clear to kids about what is acceptable and isn't from a more human perspective. Making it clear which movies show people behaving badly, at least, can have a lasting effect on what kids view as good behavior.

recapitulate

@aaaCookie, I agree with you that many ratings systems are unhelpful. Even the opposite can be true, that a movie can achieve the PG 13 warning and still be horribly inappropriate for young teens, except that it avoided violence, nudity, and explicit language just enough to avoiding being rated R.

aaaCookie

I have long found that the MPAA guide had serious holes in it. In many countries, there are more levels. For example, the British Board of Film Classification has ratings for 12 and under, 15 and under, and 18 and under; the differences between these three ages are great, though less than the difference between the 13 year-olds and 17 year-olds described in the MPAA system.

Admittedly, no ratings system is perfect, and concerned parents would probably be best reading reviews, talking to fellow parents or even teachers, and even screening at least the trailers of movies before deciding if something is acceptable for kids in the 14-16 age group.

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