I remember vividly when shows on television began carrying ratings in the corner of the screen. It was 1997 and as with most changes, there was lots of talk surrounding the topic. But, how many of us are conscious of the rating when a show comes on? Ask yourself: What is my favourite show rated? Know the answer?
Most countries that produce media content have a rating board. For television programs produced in the U.S, the organization behind the ratings is the Federal Communications Commission, FCC, a branch of the government. The Motion Picture Association of America, MPAA, rates films, while the Entertainment Software Rating Board assigns ratings to software, such as video games.
A lot of people work behind the scenes of these rating boards to ensure that content is appropriate to the recipient. However, ratings are only really useful of they’re adhered to. Whenever I think of this, the example of the toddler accompanying his parents to an R-rated movie always comes to mind. Perhaps the parents didn’t have a babysitter. Perhaps the parents think the child won’t understand. Whatever the reason, the rating system is lost on them.
Parents should pay attention to the content their child consumes, be it television, movies or video games. The impact of inappropriate content exposure can be far reaching, and more costly than keeping them safe in the first place. For instance, I have worked with a child who was being violent at school and at home, had bizarre thoughts (that indicated he was not separating reality from fantasy) and attention problems at school. While tracking his history, it was discovered that he played a lot of video games, because they kept him occupied and out of his mother’s hair. However, the video games he played were rated M (Mature) and included intense violence. No wonder he was acting out! The onus is then on the psychologist to educate the parents. The impact of him being kept out of his mother’s hair with inappropriate content? He was in trouble with school administration, who was considering expelling him. He was in therapy, which can become expensive in the long run. And it all could have been prevented by monitoring from his parents.
- TV-Y (All Children — This program is designed to be appropriate for all children.) Whether animated or live-action, the themes and elements in this program are specifically designed for a very young audience, including children from ages 2-6. This program is not expected to frighten younger children.
- TV-Y7 (Directed to Older Children — This program is designed for children age 7 and above.) It may be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality. Themes and elements in this program may include mild fantasy or comedic violence, or may frighten children under the age of 7. Therefore, parents may wish to consider the suitability of this program for their very young children. Note: For those programs where fantasy violence may be more intense or more combative than other programs in this category, such programs will be designated TV-Y7-FV. For programs designed for the entire audience, the general categories are:
- TV-G (General Audience — Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages.) Although this rating does not signify a program designed specifically for children, most parents may let younger children watch this program unattended. It contains little or no violence, no strong language and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
- TV-PG (Parental Guidance Suggested — This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children.) Many parents may want to watch it with their younger children. The theme itself may call for parental guidance and/or the program contains one or more of the following: moderate violence (V), some sexual situations (S), infrequent coarse language (L), or some suggestive dialogue (D).
- TV-14 (Parents Strongly Cautioned — This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.) Parents are strongly urged to exercise greater care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended. This program contains one or more of the following: intense violence (V), intense sexual situations (S), strong coarse language (L), or intensely suggestive dialogue (D).
- TV-MA (Mature Audience Only — This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.) This program contains one or more of the following: graphic violence (V), explicit sexual activity (S), or crude indecent language (L).
Children are highly suggestible; they are more easily influenced by what they see and hear than we acknowledge. Sexual content available to children in homes may influence sexual acting out. Violent content may lead to nightmares or aggression, and so on. Parents can protect their children from inappropriate content by blocking shows with certain ratings, requiring a password for access, and supervising what the child views. Also, parents can be more aware consumers and stay away from buying inappropriate games and movies for their children. Parents should remain vigilant and learn what ratings mean, because they’re only useful if adhered to.Advertisements