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It’s as inevitable as death and taxes: The day comes when our kids turn to us and announce they have outgrown their media. A G-rated movie suddenly holds less appeal than a PG offering; PG in turn becomes "boring" compared to PG-13. And then comes the day when they tell us "all the other kids" have seen the latest R-rated entertainment.
As our kids move from public television shows to Nickelodeon to Cartoon Network and beyond, we’re all too aware that each new stage brings whole new universes of images, messages, and influences into their experience.
Summer is a tricky time for parents. Kids want to see the big blockbusters. They\'ve got unstructured time, which they would happily fill playing video games or watching TV. It\'s hard to always be in tune with what they\'re ready for. As most of us parents know, official ratings -- be they for movies, television, or video games -- can be inconsistent or inadequate when it comes to determining what age is right for which media.
While ratings can give parents a rough idea of what to expect, our kids don’t use them as anything more than status symbols. And once your kid has seen one PG-13 movie, or played an M-rated game, good luck in trying to turn back the experiential clock.
I\'ve definitely been there. A few months ago my 12-year-old son argued with me about the fact that I wouldn’t let him see Date Movie. After offering the usual rationales ("I know the difference between real and fake violence," or "I’ve heard all those curse words before,") I finally said, "Why are you in such a rush to grow up?"
When he responded, "Mom, all kids want to be grownups and all grownups want to stay kids," I realized he might just have the perspective and maturity to see some movies I hadn’t thought he could appreciate. (Notwithstanding, I made him read the Common Sense review of Date Movie and he understood why it was a no-go).
When our kids say they’re ready to age-up their media, how can you tell if it’s time? Read on for some specific tips:
- Check out our developmental media grid. Here at Common Sense we\'ve created rough age brackets for what is and isn’t appropriate to the psychological and social development of kids.
- Do some homework. Read our reviews. Read someone else’s reviews. Google the specific title and read comments. Go see the movie or TV show first or ask a friend you trust who knows your kid.
- Probe the subject matter. A child who doesn’t understand the Holocaust probably shouldn’t be playing video games that feature Nazis. You can explore media readiness by bringing up a related topic or theme.
- Ask your kids what appeals to them about the intended media. The video game Halo 2 has been a big argument in our house (rated M for blood). But my son was able to mount an intelligent defense of the fact that the blood was alien and not plentiful. I still nixed the choice, but I was able to see his thinking had matured.
- Sometimes we just make mistakes. Let’s see -- I\'ve made so many I can’t count. There was the time I took my son to a screening of Radio and he broke down in tears at the mother’s death. There was the time he played Grand Theft Auto with his cousin because I was downstairs gabbing. But we can also use these premature trips down media lane to gain insights into where our kids are on the developmental timeline socially and psychologically.
Liz Perle is editor-in-chief of Common Sense Media.