TUESDAY, June 21 (HealthDay News) -- Parents are giving the
current media rating systems poor grades.
Moms and dads definitely want help when it comes to deciding
whether or not a movie, TV show or video game is appropriate for
their children. But, new research says the current rating systems
aren't giving them the information they need.
In three different studies of parents, all reported in the July
Pediatrics, researchers found that parents want more detailed information about media content over the vague descriptions they're being given now.
"When parents use media ratings and do set limits on the content of the media that their children see, there's a powerful protective factor. Those kids do better in school and they get into fewer fights. Ratings have a tremendous potential to matter, and if they were more accurate, they could matter even more," said the lead author of the three studies, Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University.
The three studies included a nationally-representative sample of
about 700 parents, who gave feedback on the current ratings systems
and how they could best help protect their children.
The current rating system for television, for example, includes
descriptors for violence (V), coarse or crude language (L) and
sexual situations (S), which other research suggests is often far
from accurate. Experts say this is problematic because many studies
have linked violent media content to an increase in aggressive
behavior in children and teens. Exposure to sexual content has been
linked to earlier sexual activity.
The first two studies asked parents how familiar they were with
the ratings system, what they'd like to change and how important
specific types of content were in trying to protect their
The researchers found that less than 20 percent of parents get
the information they need from the rating systems for movies, TV
and video games. And, less than 6 percent of the parents surveyed
felt that the ratings were always accurate.
Movie ratings were by far the most widely used. Besides being
most familiar with the movie ratings, nearly half (49 percent) of
the parents used them every time or most of the time their children
saw a movie. They were less familiar with the other ratings, with
just 34 percent using video games ratings and television ratings,
only 31 percent.
Three-quarters of the parents said they'd like more detailed
information on the content -- such as warnings about profanity,
physical abuse and torment, fight scenes with deaths, illegal drug
use and teen alcohol abuse -- to be included in ratings, and 68
percent said they'd like to have age-appropriate recommendations.
Fifty-seven percent of parents supported the idea of having a
universal rating system for all media.
The study that generated the most controversy gave parents
specific examples of child-inappropriate television content and
asked them to rate on a five point scale what ages they would
filter it out. The questions included sexual content, violence,
offensive language and mature content. This study was designed to
see whether or not parents could agree on the age-appropriateness
of certain content.
Among the parents, 79 percent would always or often filter out
explicit sex, 61 percent would filter out partial nudity and 53
percent would filter out commercials with sexual content, according
to the study. With the exception of sexy commercials, many parents
felt that 17 years or older should be the minimum age to watch such
The researchers found significant differences for other sexual
content. Among regular churchgoers, 39 percent would always filter
out sexy commercials, whereas only 15 percent of those who don't
attend church regularly would.
The majority of parents would filter out sexual crimes, graphic
violence, self-harm, suicide, physical abuse and intense fighting
with injury or death. Most parents would also filter sexual
obscenities and racial or religious slurs. Sixteen percent of
infrequent churchgoers would always filter out the use of a deity
as a curse, compared to 46 percent of frequent churchgoers.
"Age-based ratings are based on what is sometimes called a false-consensus bias. It's based on the idea that other people will believe the same things that you believe. But, parents didn't agree," said Gentile. "So, all age-based ratings can't be right. Instead, we should be documenting what the content is, and let parents decide based on their values," he added.
"No matter how you slice it, trying to come up with one age-based system that a majority of parents would agree on is a fool's errand," he said.
Dr. Jonathan Pletcher, clinical director of adolescent medicine
at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that a universal rating
system that provides more content information makes sense. The
bottom line, he said, is that "a rating system doesn't work unless
it's useable by parents."
But, he pointed out, with computers and smart phones becoming so
ubiquitous, it's often hard for parents to control their child's
media exposure. He said that early on, parents need to teach their
children how to be more media savvy.
Learn more about healthy media habits from the
Nemours Foundation's KidsHealth Web site.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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