What Actually Makes A Film Inappropriate For Children?

I grew up with Hippy parents. They were all about nude/sex is natural and never saw fit to censor me from any of that stuff.

I took the same approach with my sons. But unlike my parents, I’d actually have conversations with them about it. Expressing to them the difference between reality and TV.

Their response was usually to roll their eyes at me and say: “Uh, yeah, we know Dad”.

My youngest, would get nightmares from watching horror movies. Yet he would still insist on watching them. I suspect this was mainly to keep up with his older brother. So reluctantly, I didn’t censor him. What I did do though was show him how special effects worked. We made a few of our own homemade “Horror” movies and posted them on YT.

After that, the nightmares stopped.

So I guess as a poster up thread said: “Know your kid”. is what it boils down to.

I clearly remember there was a summer kiddie film series at my grammar school (I was probably 7 or 8), and we went to see Dumbo. But there was another film with it, of which I can remember nothing except it had a laugh track and there was a scene where a man breaks into a house, and comes upon a woman asleep, and leers at her (enhanced) bosom – cue the laugh track – and how weird it made me feel. I knew I was seeing something dangerous and wrong but I didn’t know why it was dangerous or why it was supposed to be funny.

I guess I haven’t changed much.

Another thing I think some parents miss is just how patronizing or condescending it can be when they firmly declare “this movie is off-limits, it’s too frightening for you, you’ll be scared to death” - when it turns out to be nothing but a boring movie with a teeny bit of violence.

:grimacing: I read The Painted Bird at 20 and still wouldn’t wish that on anyone. My parents never censored my reading material at all, but I was lucky enough to never run across anything like that.

What I wouldn’t expose a child to is a film that’s heavy on cynicism, angst, and melancholy, which Hollywood loves these days. A film that extols that life is meaningless, hopeless and futile can be a downer even for adults.

Well-done, sir. Very well-done. [Applause]

Conventional wisdom is an oxymoron for the most part.

Having said that…

a) There are subjects and topics where, although you don’t (or shouldn’t) want your children to be ignorant of them, you as a parent or guardian or designated adult-in-charge don’t want Viewpoint Z to be how they come to learn of it. Or to be something they’re repeatedly exposed to w/o enough exposure to other ways of looking at it. F’rinstance maybe you don’t want their primary exposure to sexuality to revolve around sex as a commodity that people are jealous about and fight over, or as a shameful sinful experience that leads to ruin.

b) There are deeply disturbing scenes and scenarios that really rip into a person’s soul and gives one nightmares. They can be rough fare for adults and a lot of caution should be used if children are to be exposed to it at all. I’d have all kinds of misgivings about kids seeing a scene where a brave person resists the kidnapper until he starts selectively ruining body parts and inflicting severe pain.

c) There are films of such complexity and/or which rely on a lot of wide knowledge of history and world affairs to make any sense of what’s going on. I don’t think such would harm children but it seems to me that they’d be a bad pick; the children aren’t going to catch the inferences. A lot of time I don’t either and it does remove the ability to follow the plot or get the jokes or whatever.

Well said.

I came to link to this. To expand a bit, the site scores films on a score of 1 - 10 in three different areas, Sex & Violence, Violence & Gore, and Language. To that end they will list what scenes there are like the ‘a couple kiss after they say their wedding vows’ example JohnT alluded to above. Sure, it’ll cause an eye-roll in 99% of the parents out there but it gives them the information needed to decide whether the film should be scene by their kid or not.

Not a film, but I think I still haven’t gotten over a garage door infomercial I saw as a child. It was advertising the then-new technology of a sensor that stopped it from closing if something was in the way. They illustrated the necessity of this technology by showing a child lying in the driveway, head just inside the garage, and the door closing on his neck. Over and over, from different angles. His little body pitching up slightly as the door pressed down, then falling back to the ground. Why on earth was that allowed on TV?

Anyway, good points made upthread about desensitization and such, but I think many are too dismissive of the possibility that children will be frightened, upset, even traumatized by some content. That those reactions are too often dismissed as a sign of weakness, and therefore often suppressed, doesn’t mean it’s OK.

All the examples I’ve seen mentioned are fairly mild. Now the extended cut of Caligula, I think everyone can agree, is firmly inappropriate for children.

On the flip side, I’ve taken my daughters to an animated movie that I thought would be fine for them, only to find it took a dark turn near the end and they ended up confused, scared, and disturbed.

It’s always amused me how bare breasts are considered taboo for children, considering that for most of us, that’s probably the first thing we see.

What does concern me about porn and violence in general, is that kids grow up thinking that it is ‘normal’ for men and women to behave like that.

We watched The Osbournes at home with the kids. I cringed a little at the language but it didn’t stop us from enjoying the hell out of it. We just explained that permission to watch wasn’t permission for them to talk that way themselves because society frowned on that.

I did find myself sliding down in my chair at the cinema when I took the kids to see White Men Can’t Jump. They were 14 and 10 and I felt like people were giving me funny looks.

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.

I basically watched everything as a child. I thought that it was normal for kids to sneak VHS cassettes and see all that stuff. How could you not watch Robocop, Total Recall etc.
But in retrospect it did give me a potty mouth for a while, and probably made me a bit immature for my age.

My opinion now is sort of the same as with, say, alcohol; it’s probably a good thing if the first couple times is with a responsible adult who can explain a couple things. It’s ok if a teen wants to watch an adult, violent movie as a rare thing, if a parent can explain a bit about what’s fantasy and what’s acceptable, and check they’re not getting freaked out.

I’m not a parent though, maybe just as well.

Did you watch Antichrist, Le Mépris, “Come and See”, etc?

As a kid the stuff that really disturbed me were psychedelic scenes, especially in cartoons. The pink elephants in Dumbo. The stuff Pinocchio hallucinates when he gets drunk. The boat ride in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. I have no idea if my parents would have known that stuff like that would disturb me but that horror movie violence in movies like Halloween or Friday the 13th was completely fine (which I admittedly watched as a young teenager rather than an elementary school age child). Either way, I agree with those who say the best thing is to know your children and what might and might not disturb them.

Is that at me?
No, and I still haven’t, I don’t know those movies.

I always liked this quote from Roger Ebert about Night of the Living Dead (1968):

For context, NotLD was released about a month before the Motion Pictures Association of America’s film rating system went into effect. At the time, it was fairly common to drop your kids off at a matinee and let them watch some “scary” movies but NotLD was very different from the typical matinee fare. I don’t think children process what they see on the big screen the same way adults do because they lack our experience in dealing with things. They’re still learning.

But I don’t think kids are weak or stupid. Fiction is a great way for children to be exposed to new ideas and situations and I think it’s actually good for them to watch movies that are a little scary or sad. One of my problems with children consuming violent media is that you often don’t see the consequences of the violence. In some shows, like the old GI Joe cartoon, nobody really gets hurt or dies during all that combat and I find that morally bankrupt.

So what makes a film inappropriate for children is their inability to process its contents because they are ill equipped to do so. Unfortunately there is no line in the sand the sand I can point to and say “This is inappropriate for all children under the age of 9.” When I went to see the Dawn of the Dead remake in 2004, there were a group of children ranging between the ages of 5-12 sitting right behind me. When I saw Pulp Fiction in 1994 a couple decided to bring their 3-4 year old child. I still remember a very surprised woman sitting in front me me turning in my direction and verifying, “This is Pulp Fiction, right?” I don’t have any problem saying those movies were inappropriate for children in those age ranges.