What’s a house without a TV? Boredom!!! That’s what most kids feel. A home without a TV, laptop, tablet or phone sounds like boredom to kids. Why? Because no screen time for kids is their version of a world without social media – disconnection from their favourite shows and games.
Kids love the TV screen and most times; we love them for loving it. Watching television is fine for kids, it can be educational and entertaining. From watching movies and TV shows, children can learn about a whole lot that they are not exposed to in their immediate environments, like new songs, talking animals, cities, cultures, food, superheroes, etc.
However, there are downsides to letting children spend a good amount of their lives in front of screens. As a parent, you should be sure that your kids are viewing the right films and programmes for their age, and that they are having just about the right hours of digital media.
But before deciding just how much screen time they should get, let’s talk about what exactly they should be watching!
Movie Ratings: What’s the Relevance of Movie Ratings?
A movie rating system is one that classifies movies based on their suitability for audiences. Movies are usually classified based on how they feature violence, sex/nudity, language, and drug use. Most countries usually have their rating systems by which movies are deemed to be suitable or unsuitable for viewing by minors.
The National Film and Video Censors Board NFVCB is the film rating system in Nigeria and it rates movies as G, PG, 12, 12A, 15, 18, and RE. In the United States, the Motion Picture Association MPA film rating system grades movies as G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17
What NFVCB/MPA Ratings Mean
1. G: For General Audiences
2. PG: Parental Guidance advised. It is encouraged that parents view these movies with children because they may not be suitable for younger and/or sensitive children.
- 12: Not suitable for anyone less than 12.
- 12A: Not suitable for anyone less than 12. A child must be accompanied by an adult for viewing.
- 15: These are not suitable for anyone less than 15.
- 18: Not suitable for anyone less than 18.
- RE: To be shown and distributed only in specially licensed premises.
- PG-13 movies: Parents are strongly cautioned to not let kids younger than 13 see these movies.
- R: Restricted: Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains some adult material.
- NC-17: Adults only hence no one less than 17 should be allowed to see these movies.
Every movie is not for everyone. I mean, six-year-old Lola isn’t going to be giggly and bright-eyed when she watches Saw Series. We shouldn’t let the precious little ones start anatomy (internal and external, eww!) classes too early.
Film ratings give parents/caregivers an idea of the content of a film to help them decide whether it would be suitable for viewing by a child. However, ratings do not tell parents about the actual content of movies, so, they are not just enough for making movie choices for kids.
Note: Ratings are not legal guidelines, and letting children watch movies with higher ratings does not amount to outright child abuse.
The Grey Area: PG-13 Movies
We can tell that a G movie is suitable for all audience, a PG is okay for older children, and an R rated is not for kids at all, but we don’t have any definite thing to say about PG-13. It is where the confusion lies.
The most popular movies are PG-13, film producers want their stuff to have this rating, the theatres want to show these movies, and the kids are dying to see them. It the undefined territory for violent movies. There isn’t any less violence in PG-13 movies than in R movies. And, movies are more likely to be rated R for sexual content than for violent displays.
The American Academy of Pediatrics confirms that since 1985, the year of the inception of the PG-13 category, the portrayal of gun violence in top-grossing PG-13 movies has doubled. It also reports that there are more instances of gun violence in films rated PG-13 than in those that are rated R, although these portrayals in the R category may be more graphic.
A study published in the Journal of Children and Media states that there was a significant increase in violent content in PG-13 movies under a period of eight years. Since PG-13 is the undefined territory for violent movie content, whether or not a PG-13 is suitable is for viewing by thirteen-year-olds is left for parents to decide. Parents should preview these movies or visit sites that offer reviews on movies for kids.
Some of the best kids’ movie review sites are:
- Common Sense Media: It is trusted and it is the most commonly (pun not intended) recommended site for film reviews.
- Kids-In-Mind: Kids-In-Mind offers in-depth reviews and describes each potentially offensive incident in movies that they review.
- Fandango: It also offers a lot of interesting movies that are suitable for the general family and those that are aimed at kids. It is just where I would look when I get back from my movie hiatus.
- Parents Preview: Parents Preview gives an overview of the movie. For each movie, it also gives individual ratings for violence, sexual content, profanity, alcohol/drug use, it also gives a brief description of each instance of these.
1. Should children younger than 13 watch PG-13?
Answer: No, they shouldn’t. But a parent may let a younger child watch a PG-13 movie only when they know the real content of the movies and have decided that they are okay with any offensive features in the film.
I would advise parents to wait until their kids are old enough before letting them watch these movies.
2. Are PG-13 movies perfect for thirteen-year-olds?
Answer: Not always, in my opinion.
3. Can children around 13 watch PG-13 movies alone?
Answer: The ratings are guidelines that should help parents and caregivers make film choices for kids. Parents are encouraged to be present at their kid’s viewing, they can opt-out of co-viewing if they are already aware of, and okay with, the levels of obscenities in the film.
Screen Time for Kids: What Should You Do as a Parent
1. Agree on what ratings you and the children will see together with the kids. Involve the kids in the decision.
2. Preview PG-13 movies when you can, the amount of violence in some movies with this rating would shock even adults.
3. Check the review website for movies and shows. They are better than the ratings at letting you know what content to expect.
4. Try to co-view as much as possible, especially for PG and PG-13 movies. Watching TV is a way for children and their caregivers to spend good time together.
5. Talk about it. There may be issues arising from the movies and shows that you would want to talk with the little ones about, like those that may conflict with the values they’ve been taught.
6. Teach kids to insist on the age-right rating in public places where their opinions count, and to walk away from too violent or scary scenes.
7. Teach older children that there’s nothing uncool or babyish about watching the G and PG movies. And that refusing to see a scary or violent movie doesn’t makes them chicken-hearted.
8. If you choose to watch R rated movies and shows, then have a separate screen time from your kid’s. You can watch your stuff on a PC instead.
Why You Shouldn’t Let Kids Watch Movies with Higher Ratings
Glamorisation of Practices That are Unhealthy for Minors
For most kids, if their film hero does it, then it is cool. According to Science Daily, kids watching R-rated movies are more likely to try alcohol at a younger age.
Dr Justin Coulson, for Institute for Family Studies, says that intermittent exposure to sexual and violent content has been proven to have a desensitizing impact on both children and adults. This means that, over time, the more we see graphic images, the less we become sensitive to them. The old offensive simply becomes the new normal.
Emotional Distress and Paranoia
Kids, after watching some mystical movies, may begin to suspect some people around them to be witches or demons, this usually is temporal. Although it happens with children, adults too could get paranoid after watching certain movies. And let’s not forget the nightmares!!!
Once, my brother and I had a willing friend lifted and thrown over our shoulders – WWW style. Poor homeboy landed the wrong way, head on a window burglary proof. And, what did we get? A sobbing, bloody little boy and two kids terrified that they almost killed their best friend and that they were going to get the whooping of their lives.
It is especially harmful when there are unrealistic depictions on the effect of violent acts on their victims. Most times, children don’t even know the difference between TV and reality (we had expected our friend to just land, pick himself up, and waltz off as a fighter would in a professional wrestling match).
Now that we know about movie ratings and its relevance, let’s talk about screen hours for children.
Getting Too Much of the Good Stuff: How Much Screen Time is Too Much?
Most Kids tune out to everything else and tend to be less fussy when they watch their favourite films/shows, play games or just spend time on the internet. A lot of ever-busy parents may be tempted to allow their kids to have long screen hours so mama/papa can focus or have free time. But we shouldn’t have little Lola glued to the TV all afternoon, neither should we have the screen become a new babysitter.
The American Heart Association, AHA, says that the average kid spends too much time in front of screens. So, yes, there is such a thing as too much screen time and the effects are not pleasant.
Kids that are allowed too much screen hours may be prone to one or more of these problems:
- Myopia: a study featured on CBS reports that spending too many hours watching TV could cause myopia in kids.
- A sedentary lifestyle that could lead to obesity.
- Disconnection with reality.
- Lack of social skills, etc.
Recommended Screen Time for Kids
The AHA encourages parents to drastically cut screen time for kids and recommends two hours for older children and an hour for children aged 2-5. Similarly, the American Academy of Pediatrics AAP endorses an hour a day of screen time for kids between 2-5 years of age.
The AAP also advises parents to avoid exposing kids younger than 18 months to screens except for video-chatting.
Things that Should Not be Replaced by Screen Media
- Family time
- Socialisation and playing with real-life friends.
- Babysitting – screens aren’t sitters if you need someone to watch over the kids, find one.
- Music and arts
- Outdoor recreation
Alternative Activities for Kids
What Parents Can do About Screen Time for Kids
There are a lot of things parents can do but as always, start small and take it step by step. Small changes create big changes! In summary:
- Don’t let kids watch movies with higher ratings.
- Search for additional information from review sites.
- Preview/co-view movies
- Talk with kids about movies.
- Cut/regulate TV/Screen hours.
- Introduce alternative activities.
This is how parents can ensure that their kids are watching age suitable movies and having the right hours of screen time.