When I was a child, my parents were excellent about deciding which movies were appropriate for my brother and me, and which ones were not. I did not always agree with their choices, especially when a new romantic comedy would come out that just looked all sorts of cute (and was rated the way it was for good reason, as I would later find out) or when I wanted to see a rather gory horror movie with friends. But it kept me well-guarded from the unnecessary violence and sex scenes found in most R-rated movies. Now when I go to see a scary movie, or any movie that I know will be expressly violent or sexual, and happen to see a child sitting in the front row, I can't help but wonder how the movie will affect them and if they should even be there.
Ratings on movies are put there for a reason: to warn audiences of the content shown. There are many movies that are great for children, even educational (I highly recommend taking your children to see "Zootopia"), but then there are movies that are more violence or sex than actual storyline. The latter movies are rated higher because they are not meant for young eyes to see. Even so, it is estimated that more than 2.5 million children, from ages 10 to 14, still find a way to watch the typical violent or inappropriate R-rated movie (6). So, how does exposure to movies rated outside their age range affect children?
Allowing children, particularly boys, to see violent movies at a young age can cause an increase in aggressive behavior early in life (2). Some categories of children are more susceptible to this than others. For example, children from abusive homes, children from low-income families, and children with learning disabilities have been found more adversely affected by violent movies (4; 5). This can mean an increased rate of fighting and other violence in schools. In fact, there are many who believe there is a correlation between the violence shown in the media and the increase in school shootings. Additionally, exposure to movies that have higher ratings (PG13 and above) due to sexual content can teach children that it is perfectly fine to have unprotected sex without teaching them the risks (1; 3). This can lead to a rise in teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Age does not, however, equate with maturity. Some children are more mature than others and can handle the content shown in higher rated movies. The age restrictions on movie ratings do not determine the maturity of the audience watching, and therefore it ultimately comes down to the decision of the parents and whether or not they believe their children to be old enough for a particular movie. A thorough understanding of right and wrong instilled in the child will help prevent the child from engaging in the violence seen in the movies, and lessons on safe sex (or abstinence) can help prevent teen pregnancies and STDs.