Making Sense

Q&A: How do I say "no" to a PG-13 movie that seems inappropriate for my 13-year-old?

PG-13 movies often push the limits of the rating with sexual and violent content that you're not comfortable with.
Caroline Knorr Parenting Editor | Mom of one Categories: Ask our parenting editor
Parenting Editor | Mom of one

Q. My 13-year-old wants to see World War Z, but even though it's rated PG-13, it looks too violent to me. It's hard to argue when my kid is clearly in the target age range. What should I do?

A. The PG-13 rating is a head-scratcher for many parents. And the MPAA's ratings explanation isn't too enlightening. Plenty of PG-13 movies -- including World War Z, The Dark Knight Rises, Jack Reacher, and Taken -- have violence levels that Common Sense Media rates inappropriate for the 13-year-old target age.

You're right to be cautious. A study in Pediatrics, the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that the amount of gun violence in PG-13 movies has more than tripled since the rating was introduced in 1985. The effect of media on violence is difficult to measure, but most studies show that overexposure is bad for kids.

Common Sense Media believes that young teens may be able to handle depictions of non-graphic violence, but all violence still needs to show consequences. Scenes of torture and gratuitous violence aren't age appropriate. And your own personal criteria -- as well as your knowledge of what your own kid can handle -- matter, too.

Kids always want to push boundaries. Push back. Look beyond the conventional ratings to find out more about the content. Watch the trailers, read reviews, look at our ratings, ask your friends. Factor in your own personal values and your kid's sensitivies.

In the end, you'll need to stand firm in your decision. Offer him alternatives, like renting or streaming other movies that are similar to the one he wants to see. (Check our movie recommendations for ideas.)

And if by some chance he does see the movie in question, discuss it with him. Talking about it can help put the scenes in context and provide a little more perspective for your kid. In the process, you'll be sharing your values, and your messages will come through.

Do you think PG-13 movies are getting more violent?

Got a question? Drop me a line or send me a tweet.

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About Caroline Knorr

As Common Sense Media's parenting editor, Caroline helps parents make sense of what’s going on in their kids' media lives. From games to cell phones to movies and more, if you're wondering "what’s the right age for... Read more

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Comments (41)

I watched Arachnophobia when I was 3. I watched Jurassic Park when I was 4. Now, at 11, pretty much all I watch is PG-13 movies. I watched Iron Man 3, The Hunger Games (both of them), all the Harry Potter movies, The Dark Knight Rises, The Great Gatsby, Twilight, etc. I really don't think you give kids enough credit. In my class, kids are dating, telling each other they're "gay", and we know so much about sex and violence. We're mature, so stop acting like we're 6!
The rating system is getting more blurred OBVIOUSLY times are changing. A PG13 and a R are somewhat similar. It just depends on the kid. I am mature so i can handle a lot without getting scarred and all. If your child is immature shelter them. They are just guidelines like how Mean Girls (pg13) is worse than planes trains automobiles (r). Always depends on the person. Always.
The rating system is not intended as a blanket GREEN LIGHT for all children of a certain age to see whatever movie they are "old enough" to see. Both PG and PG 13 involve PARENTAL GUIDENCE! Being involved in what your children watches and reads is not about being OVERPROTECTIVE. It is about loving your child and being an involved parent. No child has ever been emotionally scarred by being denied exposure to sex and violence in games, movies, and books.
I find it frustrating to read the many comments with the attitude that "they see it everywhere, it's ok", "they are already desensitized to it". This is one thing that is very wrong with our society. Parents don't stand up and set limits on things that are damaging to their kids and promote a sick society. It makes it very hard for those of us who do try to do this. Our 11 year old daughter has been obsessed with reading the Hunger Games for over a year now; because it is the hip thing to be reading, according to many of her classmates and teachers. Really? A book about teens killing each other, a dark dystopian tale, a must read for a 10 year old? I know that it's well written, suspenseful, has some good messages, etc. etc. but I believe that there are so many good books out there that would raise and expand a child's consciousness, stimulate their thinking, and interest them deeply without the inevitable effect of desensitizing them to violence and its aftereffects that these kinds of books and movies do. Why is there so much violence in this country today? No doubt it's directly connected to the media, books, movies, games, it's really a no brainer, yet so few parents are willing to say no; if you can say no, the strategy of helping them to select substitute choices that they will like that aren't so violent is the best way to go.
I saw all four of the "Rambo" films at age twelve, saw "Iron Man" at 10, "Captain America" at 11 and I see no reason you should argue with a 13-year-old over a PG-13 rating. If they're 13, they most likely hear worse at school, especially in Seventh Grade, which caused some of the people that hadn't seen a movie at least rated PG-13 to freak out.
I've seen all of the films CommonSenseMedia recommends in this article and I thoroughly disagree with what they're saying about them. All of these films have content that is not anywhere near that of what kids seem to stream online nowadays. We forget that kids are watching channels like "CollegeHunor" on YouTube that have worse content than any of these films. I believe that a lot of R rated movies are appropriate for 12 year olds that I have viewed myself (I am 12). I also notice that CSM has an extreme bias against R rated films, rarely saying anyone under 16 can see most of them, even though films such as "Robocop" and the "Alien" franchise are without a doubt appropriate for children of my age if they understand the underlying themes.
Sometimes it's ridiculous how protective some parents on here are..... If a movie is rated pg-13 for violence and some slight language you should let your 13 year old see it... The only time I would understand that you wouldn't want to let you're child watch a pg-13 movie if there was strong sexual content. Though not letting you're child watch a movie because of violence, well.... that's a little silly. If you're kid feels up to watching a zombie thriller let them watch it!
It is hard when you are in this position. I have recently seen iron man 2 and iron man 3. They were both rated pg-13 and they weren't to bad or violent. It is actually probably best to just let them see it.some films like wwz you shouldn't really let them see though.
Hello, I thought that, being the age of the teen in question, my response might be of some use. I am of the opinion, that it definitely depends on your child. I saw World War Z a couple of weeks ago, and to be honest, I had trouble sleeping that night. Not because of the movie, but the previews. I have a problem with supernatural horror, particularly things like The Conjuring, and the other movie preview they showed. And one of those was rated PG-13! Now, about World War Z, a couple of the undead jumped out all of a sudden, and a hand was cut off off screen, to stop the spread of the infection, but there was very little blood. Back to the larger topic, I think sometimes even Common Sense Media overreacts a little. I saw The Dark Knight Rises when I was 12, with no problems. In fact, at the end, I was so happy, I stayed until 2 a.m. in awe.
Honestly, these days, in regards to the "Are PG-13 movies getting more violent?" question, I feel that the ratings are getting more and more muddled over time. There are some R rated movies I would see over some PG-13 movies in fact due to the varying content. But the thing is that no matter what, I think that the level of appropriateness depends on the child. If a child has an intense fear of sharks but not of aliens, then I'd say that E.T. would be a much better movie for that child (of course, partially because the movie has little to no violence whereas Jaws is about a man-eating shark, but the point is still the same). I try to apply the same logic to my own life/movie-watching. I chose that I didn't want to watch World War Z (PG-13) however I did see The Heat (R). I personally prefer strong language over decaying zombies trying to eat people's brains out, so I think The Heat would offend/mentally scar me a lot less than World War Z. So, the bottom line is, know your children when you choose which movies you don't or do want them to watch.
Hey Matt I agree with you, it depends on the child. I read many of these blog posts and I didn't see any advice that I used when I raised my children. Watch the movie with your child. My youngest saw E.T. When she was in middle school and she was terrified of E. T. She still is and she's in her twenties!
I'd say the baddest violent thing I saw was the Matrix, and that was rated R, but since I'm Australian, it got a rating equivalent to the absent-minded "PG-13" rating. I mean, Batman Begins and the Matrix both had the same bit of impact on me.
If PG-13 Films are getting more violent, then why dont bothered adults do something about it. They cant and never will. Anyways kids of our times (and i'm speaking of personal experience) are becoming more and more ¨sneaky¨. If you dont let your kid watch what he wants, he'll probably just stream it online and then delete his history and cache.
No. In fact, movie are getting more and more tamer. Watch the original Indiana Jones movies, or the first Star Wars movie (where a guy gets his hand chopped off in bloody fashion and Luke's parents burned bodies are shown) - all of those were PG. Look at the original Red Dawn movie - it's PG-13 and has a body count close to a 100 and teenagers getting chopped up left and right. Now you look at something like The Avengers in which the last 45 minutes are, essentially, a PIXAR cartoon - there's no tension, no sense of danger. Nothing. Anyone worrying about "violence" in PG-13 movies - the only thing you should worry about is the fact that these movies portray violence as a consequence-free activity. Bullets fly, but there are no bullet holes. Fists fly - there are no blood... It gives the wrong impression. And once the kid grows up or/and comes in contact with real life violence - he'll freak out like you won't believe. Cause all this time you raised him, made him believe that you can do "bad" things, but nothing bad or of any sort of consequence will happen. An argument can even be made that it's much better to show kids a movie like RoboCop - it puts things in perspective. Makes you realize how fragile a human body actually is. Instead - you get these guys in tights flying off buildings and whatnot... it's the wrong message.
I honestly think this is a bunch of bull. Your kid has probably seen violent stuff on YouTube, most kids have. I don't think that most CommonSenseMedia reviews are accurate either (Slender: Not For Kids specifically). I also find that most films are rated R because of language, and honestly, your kid isn't learning anything new due to language. And honestly, I don't think that sexual stuff is even relevant until it's borderline NC-17. We live in a society where your child has seen worst, and it's okay to let him watch higher rated films that have a meaning such as V For Vendetta or Fight Club. I personally never watch R rater movies due to my age, but I read books with that kind of content. As a parent, you need to show your kid some of the best cinema stuff, instead of them never watching a movie due to a rating until they are 27.
Hello Everyone, This is slightly unrelated but I know how from first hand experience how difficult it can be to find positive influences for children when it comes to media - especially music and movies. One website I definitely feel comfortable letting the kiddos listen to is from the Word of Truth Media Network. I help with their media outreach. We have Christian music that the younger kids really like and you never have to worry about them hearing anything unsavory. Plus, they have one minute devotionals that actually give me encouragement and are put so simply that even the kids can understand. I know sometimes keeping the kiddos busy can get frustrating but keep the faith and enjoy this time! Hope this helps. Be blessed.
I Am Ten years Old.I have Seen Advengers,Iron Man One And 2,After Earth,Chaperone,Star Trek Into Darkness,Captain America,And Man Of Steel,Super Size Me,ETC.And They Are Rated PG-13 And Pretty Violent.MOST Action Movies Are Appropriate For 10+.It's The Comedy And Drama Movies That Should Not Be Watched By Ten Year Old,They have Sexual Content And Profanity In Them. I Have Not Seen Any R Rated Movies.But,Is It Okay For A Thirteen Year Old To Watch PG-13 Movies?It All Depends On The Kid And The Movie.For Example,The Movies After Earth And Chaperone Were PG-13,And CSM gave Them On For Not My Age,But Handeled Them Fine.But,My Mom And I Rented A Thousand Words,A Eddie Murphy PG-13 Comedy That Was Full Of Language,Sexual Content,And Drinking.My Mom Turned It Off.
You know i'm 13 years old back in 2011. but i'm 15 years old now. i have no problem watching World War Z. and in my opinion it's fine for a 13 year old to watch PG-13 movies.
They have ratings for a reason if u think it looks too violent might I suggest going to the movies with your child watever u do don't say totaly no use a word like mabey or I will consider it ps I want to see it too as well as White House down and other good but violent looking pg -13s watch it together u won't be sorry
Why does (what should be) a supposed R-Rated film get classified PG-13? That's quite easy and can be summed up in 3 words. Bag. Of. Money. Simply, the publisher PAYS the MAFIAA (And this as well as that cursed piracy-catching system which works 1 of 10 times) to make the film have a classification one notch down.
I think it is okay for a thirteen year old. I just watched I am legend and it looks like that kind of. It wasn't too violent, just some scary scenes. I think it depends on what you let your child see
WWZ looks fine for a 13 year old. also, Taken was VERY mild. many of the R rated films i have seen (Exoendables 2, Last Samurai) are fine for 14 and 13 year old
Blade Runner is rated R and that movie is less graphic in terms of violence than WWZ or any other movies that Caroline Knorr listed. (Blade Runner was released in the 80s when the MPAA didn't have a PG-13 rating. That may explain)
To answer that last question, "Do you think PG-13 movies are getting more violent?", I'd say: Yes. Don't believe me, parents? Watch The Dark Knight! But I can see how hard it is to let your young kids see violent PG-13 movies. If your kids have a complete understanding of what they see in the movies should not be put into reality, then just let them make the choice. But if they don't know the difference between fantasy and reality, then try to find alternative movies, or explain the consequences of committing violent acts in real life.
I honestly have no idea how they managed to get World War Z as low as a PG-13 rating. Any movie/TV show/video game with large amounts of zombie violence is guaranteed practically to be R-rated. I think the MPAA lowered the rating for commercial and marketing reasons; that's what they did with the movie This Means War. PG-13 films tend to be higher grossing than R-rated films because they have a wider audience statistically.
I'm not sure, I recently saw Jack Reacher, and Now You See Me on IMDB and here, and I don't think either deserved its rating, as Now You See Me had a Make Out scene, the girl is topless, and as commonsense states, It has that but it doesn't say the girl is topless.
It was brief sexual nudity which is allowed in PG-13 movies, it was without a doubt deserving of the rating, and would probably get a PG if it didn't have that scene.
I screen the content on almost everything anyhow. Either using commonsensemedia or the IMDB database. At the end of the day I find the the MPAA isn't doing their job. Movies should be made for more than entertainment. They should have genuine value. Alot of people miss out on that value because its locked behind an R rating that they won't question.
I agree with that the movie rating is a head scratching even for the most PGs and Gs for younger kids that are below 13. We have stopped going to the movies.
In my opinion, the MPAA ratings are all well and good, but it all boils down to what the parents or guardians do or do not allow. I saw the Batman films (the Christopher Nolan ones) and thought they were violent, but I could handle it. My family knew that. However, I would not suggest it to younger kids. I trust the common sense (no pun intended) of the parents and the reviews of CSM more than I do MPAA or ESRB. Don't get me wrong, they help, but they generally just describe the content. Family values and non-profit rating sites generally are better help.
Common Sense Media is more trustworthy, but I am not calling the movie and TV ratings liars, but adults must take more action!
I agree. The MPAA ratings are vague, generalized, and subjective (i.e. the definition of "sexual content"), but CSM is more specific with particular areas of content that may be a concern to parents. Sexual content, for example, in the MPAA rating system, can range from teens making out to a graphic sex scene with nudity.
Well, we have 2 young kids...and violence (depending on the severity) I don't mind them mind watching. It's the language or sexual content I don't like them seeing or hearing as much. But when it comes to some brand new movie release still in the theater...the big screen can sometimes 'draw in' little minds. It did that to me a few times, sometimes I'd feel 'indestructible' or similar to how the heros felt or like I could do something overly extraordinary so to speak. So sometimes my wife and I will see a movie and we'll think "no, not for our 8 year old...". So it just all depends on the content. Especially since there are so many grades of violence. I would not suggest Man of Steel to anyone under 10 by the way. Let me put it this way. I let my little girl watch Hellboy 2... she LOVED it. Interesting characters, good plot, amazing effects etc. etc, actually VERY low use bad language... it almost reminded me of an older Star Wars film! (she saw it at home on DVD). Well, my mother was outraged we let her see Hellboy! We had an issue with the name. etc. I told my girl, IF you're around me you can say his name, BUT if you're around someone else call it 'HB'. Because it's the characters NAME not something 'really' bad. Anyway, so my mom decided to up the ante -so to speak. While she kept our little girl she let her watch Jaws just prior to going to a beach vacation! Now nothing she saw in Hellboy is REMOTELY real, while Jaws (despite it's age) has parallels to the real world. So when we went to the beach, she was DEATHLY afraid about getting in the water ever again. I will admit I've let both my kids 8 & 4 watch all three Jurassic Park movies. Yeah, there's some language and little bit of gore, but we all watch ot TOGETHER and one of the first times we saw one, we made a point to notice all the ERRORS in the movie. This made it much more fun to watch for the kids.
I absolutely believe that PG-13 rated movies are getting more violent. Even PG movies contain an abundance of violence that has made me reconsider taking my daughters to the theater. And I'm not narrow-minded or uptight. My oldest daughter is 13, but I know that she is not mentally old enough to watch whatever she wants. Her father and I watch a movie first and then we decide if she is old enough for it.