Why Rated R Movies are Better for Kids than PG-13 Ones

People who let their kids see rated “R” movies are often considered to be “bad” parents who aren’t paying enough attention to what their children are exposed to. In fact, if you take a kid to a rated R movie, the guy behind the ticket booth will usually ask “you know this movie is rated R, right?” The problem is, kids love the kind of violence normally associated with these movies. This caused a conundrum after the release of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom in 1984, smack-dab in the middle of the first Hollywood Blockbuster heyday. It was too violent to have been PG but they still wanted to make money off of the violence-starved young masses. Spielberg and the MPAA solved it with the magical rating “PG-13.” Now you can say “fuck” once, show Kate Winslet’s tits and kill as many people as you want as long as it’s not too bloody or gory. Problem solved? Not quite. I posit that PG-13 movies are actually worse for kids than rated R movies. They teach young people that violence is a fun, bloodless affair that isn’t nearly as bad as the news makes it out to be. Rated R movies on the other hand show audiences how horrific violence is and set high stakes for the characters.

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Take the PG-13 Jurassic World for instance. A shit-ton of people die. They get munched by Velociraptors, snatched by flying pterodactyls, dropped into the gaping maw of the sea-dwelling mosasaurus and eaten alive by the genetically altered “Indominus Rex.” But it’s also fairly tame. The director cuts away when the actual eating happens, there’s no guts, barely any blood and we don’t see any arms or legs ripped off. No one we care about ever gets killed. The people who die are generally assholes but we don’t know enough about them to actually enjoy it when they receive their just desserts. In other words, violence is something that happens to other people, not us. It’s also not scary. It’s kind of funny. Therefore, the movie fundamentally fails to be what a monster flick should be — scary.

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Put Jurassic World up next to one of the best rated R monster movies, the original Alien. Only a half a dozen or so people die in this movie, but when they die, they die. You see aliens ripping out of people’s chests, people getting burned with alien acid blood, blood gurgling out of people’s mouth. It’s fucking scary. It reminds us how small we are and how fragile our existence is. It shows us that death isn’t fun, it’s horrible.

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Compare that to the post-credits scene of another monster movie, the very PG-13 The Mummy. It’s an epic war sequence in which a horde of Middle Eastern warriors engage in battle with the French Foreign legion. More people die in that first scene alone than in the first two rated R Alien movies combined. But somehow this movie is considered less violent because they don’t show anyone’s blood or guts. So three things are happening here. We are showing an ass-load of people being mercilessly slaughtered in a movie marketed towards children. We’re also portraying violence in a way that is highly unrealistic. Third, we’re making violence seem fun. So what’s a worse influence on your kids? A movie in which a few people die and you see some blood or a movie in which countless nameless Middle Eastern people and young soldiers murder each other in a light-hearted spirit? Think about it.

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You can’t shield your kids from violence. Even if you don’t let them watch any movies they still live in a world filled with war, genocide and murder. So the question becomes, what do you want them to think about violence? Is it something scary and horrendous or is it something fun? At the end of the day, don’t give movies too much credit for influencing your kids. It detracts from the impact of your role as a parent. Films can only shape your children’s understanding of the world if you aren’t around to show them how it really is. After all, it’s just a movie.