Protecting children from media: content not age ratings preferred

We’re all familiar with the age rating systems used on films, with similar systems existing for video games and television, but a US survey suggests parents don’t feel that adequately meets their needs.

The fact is, children develop at different rates and parents have varying standards for the upbringing of their kids.

The long-titled “Parents’ Evaluation of Media Ratings a Decade After Television Ratings Were Introduced” survey summarises three studies in which parents were asked about content and restricting their child’s access to it.

Three-quarters of those questioned said that they’d like to see more detailed content ratings alongside age-based ratings.

Although such ratings already partly exist, particularly on video games, the study authors found that they didn’t cover all the areas parents want and aren’t completely accurate.

With movie ratings the most prominent and well-known, it’s not surprising that nearly half of the parents surveyed said they used them on a regular basis. One-third used the video game ratings, while just 31% used TV ratings. Perhaps the situation is different in the US, but I’ve never seen actual ratings used on British TV for non-film programmes.

“For age-based ratings to be valid, the people who need to use them — parents — must generally agree that they are accurate. If parents don’t agree at which age different content is acceptable, that means all age-based ratings must, by necessity, be invalid,” said Iowa State University’s Douglas Gentile.

The authors compiled a list of 36 content labels and descriptors — listed under four content categories: sexual, violent, offensive language and mature — that Gentile says could be used as a basis for a future content ratings system.

“For about half of those 36 different types of content, more than 50 percent of parents said, ‘Yes, I would screen this for my kid if I knew about it,'” he said. “Therefore, we know what content parents want to know about.”

A majority of parents thought there should be a universal rating system for all media, including additional media types such as Internet websites and games, music CDs and games on handheld devices. And given that media have converged in a way that almost all types of media can now be accessed on one electronic device, Gentile says it’s a good time to re-assess how ratings are applied.

What do you think about the current content rating systems? Do they work? How about peer-created systems like the parental advisory sections found on the Internet Movie Database? Leave a comment below with your thoughts.