News Release: Research

Sep. 30,  2009

Emory's Online Journal of Family Life

Movie Ratings Get Thumbs Down, Says Study

Parents don’t like the way Hollywood rates movies, primarily because it is inconsistent and vague, according to a new study published in Emory’s online Journal of Family Life.  In addition to the rating, such as G, PG or PG-13, study participants said they want more specific content information so they can make more informed decisions about what films they will allow their children to watch.

In general, parents said the rating system relies too much on age to determine ratings, and is unable to take into account individual maturity levels of children. They also expressed concern that standards have loosened over the years, and more risque material is available to younger audiences. They wanted more specific information about violence, language and sexual situations, the research showed.

The study, "Parents Speak: Parental Utilization of and Satisfaction With the Motion Picture Association of America's Film Rating System," was done by Patricia A. Williamson, of Central Michigan University. She convened focus groups with mothers and fathers of children of various ages. Parents were unanimously dissatisfied with the system, Williamson said, even though some said they used it when deciding whether to let their kids see certain movies. 

The Motion Picture Association of America film rating system has been in place since 1968. While MPAA-sanctioned surveys  show parents are satisfied with it, increased criticism  by special interest groups, parents and film industry insiders has brought it under scrutiny.

Williamson’s research is one of the first academic studies that allowed parents to voice opinions of the film ratings in their own words, without conforming to preconceived categories on a closed-ended survey. Some parents said they had taken their children to a movie, only to walk out, kids in tow, because of something they saw or heard during the film.

“Sometimes we'd get in there and I would think, what was this rated? And I would actually get up and go look and think, ooohh, I disagree. You gotta be kidding me! This isn't PG or PG-13... this is R,” one mother said.

Journal of Family Life is published by the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, with support from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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