As a parent to two girls (7 and 10), here’s how I approach it.
1 - appropriateness is different for something the kids are watching on their own, unguided, versus something we watch together. I am happy to push the envelope if I’m there to explain stuff and help them process it.
2 - it’s not about the content, superficially speaking. It’s about the meaning and context, what the content is actually saying.
Example: Wonder Woman and Aquaman are both rated PG-13 for language and sci fi violence. We watched Aquaman together, but I’m holding off on Wonder Woman.
Aquaman is about a doofus reluctantly embracing heroism, which provides a good framework for moral teaching. The occasional bad word doesn’t bother me; the kids hear worse at school. And the violence is cartoony and detached from reality.
Wonder Woman is about a hero struggling against a world that barely acknowledges its need for her. The WWI setting is grim and bleak. The violence is often realistic; it hurts. To watch this, I would need to walk my kids through the idea that stupid grownups do indefensible things for terrible reasons, and innocent people get hurt for no reason. They’re not ready to process this, not yet.
I showed them Aquaman, and we paused frequently to talk about stuff. When King Orm was delivering his complaint about surface people dropping trash in the ocean, it was an opportunity to discuss the environment, and our responsibility to minimize waste. Then, later, we talked about how those reasons were real, but Orm was using them as a pretext for his real desire, to take power.
“So he’s like Killmonger!” my kids said, referencing Black Panther. “He’s right about what’s wrong, but he’s making bad choices about how to solve the problem.”
That’s what it comes down to, for me. If it helps them understand their place in the world and build confidence in their ability to make choices in that context, it’s appropriate. If it undermines their confidence, making the world seem senseless or themselves feel helpless, I’m holding off for now. And I’m always, always available to guide them through this conversation.
The world will announce itself as chaotic and meaningless and undirected soon enough. I want them to be strong people, with solid spirits, minds, and hearts, so they can absorb that blow when it comes.