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Should I Let My Kid Watch That?

Words by
Jackie Baucom

MAY 03, 2024

Should I Let My Kid Watch That?

As parents, navigating the vast landscape of film and television content available today can be daunting. With the rise of streaming services and the endless options at our fingertips, ensuring our children are consuming age-appropriate and safe media has become increasingly challenging. 

Parents unanimously praise “Bluey” as top-tier entertainment, but the value of toy unboxing videos and video game walkthroughs to kids remains a mystery.

Just as we carefully monitor the apps our kids use, it’s equally important to be mindful of the content they’re exposed to on screen — especially considering that millions of people stream shows on mobile devices.

When it comes to selecting what our children watch, there are numerous risks to consider. Let’s delve into some of the film and TV risks that parents should be aware of and how to mitigate them.

Attention Span Concerns

Have you ever noticed how rapidly scenes change in some children’s programming? This fast-paced editing technique, known as jump cuts, is often employed to keep young viewers engaged. For instance, CocoMelon, a popular kids’ show, reportedly utilizes a jump cut every one to three seconds, catering to the famously short attention spans of toddlers.

bored child with short attention span

While these rapid cuts may seem harmless, they can contribute to attention-related issues and overstimulation. Research suggests that constant exposure to such editing styles may impact a child’s ability to focus, potentially leading to attention deficits later in life. 

As parents, it’s crucial to strike a balance and opt for content that respects the natural attention spans of children without overwhelming them.

Content Concerns

Another significant consideration is the presence of mature content such as violence, gore, nudity, explicit language, and drug references in film and TV. While some parents may argue that exposure to these elements is inevitable and part of the real world, research indicates otherwise. Repeated exposure to negative influences can desensitize children and shape their perceptions of what is acceptable behavior. Moreover, it may numb them to the severity of these themes, leading them to expect or seek out similar content elsewhere.

Yes, kids will be exposed to objectionable content in the real world but there is a difference between occasional exposure and consistent exposure at home.

By proactively selecting age-appropriate content, parents can create a space where kids can “reset” each day, mitigating the risk of normalizing or glorifying such behaviors in their children’s minds.

The Argument of “Real World Exposure”

A common rebuttal to concerns about media content is the argument that children will inevitably encounter these themes in the real world. While it’s true that exposure to the outside world is inevitable, the notion that exposure to all the negative scenarios featured in shows will mirror everyone’s real world experiences is misguided. 

mother shielding her kids' eyes

Research suggests that repeated exposure to harmful content can indeed alter an individual’s behavior. By creating a home environment free from these risks, parents provide a vital “reset” function. This helps children distinguish between appropriate and inappropriate behavior, even when they encounter challenging situations outside the home.

Considerations For Parents

When determining whether a film or TV show is suitable for their children, parents should consider a range of factors beyond just the content displayed on screen. 

Research published in reputable journals highlights several additional factors that can influence the impact of media on children’s development and well-being.

Media Effects on Cognitive Development

Studies have shown that excessive screen time, particularly for young children, can have negative effects on cognitive development. Exposing children to age-inappropriate content or excessive screen time can impede language development, attention span, and academic performance. 

Social and Emotional Learning

Media can play a significant role in shaping children’s social and emotional development. Research suggests that exposure to shows that emphasize empathy, cooperation, and problem-solving, can enhance children’s social skills, and emotional intelligence. In contrast, exposure to aggressive or antisocial content may contribute to behavioral problems and desensitization to violence. 

Parental Mediation and Co-Viewing

Parental involvement in children’s media consumption, known as parental mediation, is crucial for maximizing the benefits and minimizing the risks of media exposure. Co-viewing programs with children and discussing the content can enhance their understanding, critical thinking skills, and media literacy.

father and son watching a show together

Starting kids out on devices that don’t allow streaming apps can help cultivate healthier screen habits by limiting exposure to inappropriate content. Even if a parent feels their child is ready for a smartphone with streaming apps, setting clear guidelines and having regular conversation about their digital consumption can ensure their online safety.

Ad Influence and Marketing Tactics

Children are highly susceptible to advertising and marketing messages embedded within media content. Exposure to commercialized content can shape children’s preferences, consumption habits, and materialistic values. Parents should be cautious of the persuasive techniques used in children’s programming. 

Digital Citizenship and Online Safety

Children are increasingly exposed to online content and digital platforms. Parents must educate their children about internet safety, privacy concerns, and responsible online behavior. Research emphasizes the importance of teaching children to navigate digital spaces safely, identify trustworthy sources of information, and engage in positive online interactions.


Both TV show and movie ratings are determined by a combination of factors, including the presence and intensity of language, violence, sexual content, and other mature themes. Ratings boards or organizations review the content of each program or film and assign a rating based on established criteria. These ratings are intended to help viewers make informed choices about what they watch, taking into account the age and maturity level of the audience.

How Are TV Shows Rated?

The TV Parental Guidelines, established by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC), provide age-based ratings and content descriptors for television programming. These ratings include:

  • TV-Y: Suitable for all children.
  • TV-Y7: Suitable for children ages 7 and older. May contain mild fantasy violence or comedic violence.
  • TV-G: General audience. Suitable for all ages. Contains little or no violence, strong language, or adult content.
  • TV-PG: Parental guidance suggested. May contain moderate violence, mild language, or suggestive dialogue.
  • TV-14: Parents strongly cautioned. May contain intense violence, sexual content, or strong language deemed inappropriate for children under 14.
  • TV-MA: Mature audience only. Content is intended for adults and may include graphic violence, explicit language, or sexual situations.

In addition to the rating, TV shows may include content descriptors that provide further information about the specific content that led to the rating. These descriptors can include themes such as violence, sexual content, language, and suggestive dialogue.

How Are Movies Rated?

The MPAA rating system, established by the Motion Picture Association, provides age-based ratings and content advisories for movies released in the United States. These ratings include:

  • G: General audiences. Suitable for all ages.
  • PG: Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children. Parents are urged to provide parental guidance.
  • PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13. Parents are urged to be cautious.
  • R: Restricted. Children under 17 must have an accompanying parent or adult guardian. Contains adult themes, language, and/or intense violence.
  • NC-17: No one 17 and under admitted. Contains explicit adult content. Not suitable for children.

Similar to TV ratings, movies may include content descriptors that provide additional information about the specific content that led to the rating. These descriptors can include themes such as violence, sexual content, language, drug use, and nudity.

One thing to keep in mind is that ratings of old movies typically do not get updated. Have you ever shared a G or PG rated movie from your youth with your children, only to be mortified by the adult and inappropriate themes littered throughout? I’m thinking of “Grease,” “Mrs. Doubtfire,” and “Liar, Liar.”

Once a movie receives a rating from the relevant rating authority, that rating remains associated with the film indefinitely, unless it undergoes a re-release. In this case, the movie may be re-submitted for rating if the changes are significant enough to warrant a different rating. This is rare, and most older films maintain their original ratings regardless of any changes in societal standards or attitudes over time.

knock off breakfast at tiffanys

While the rating itself may not change, what was considered acceptable at the time of release may be viewed differently by modern audiences. Some examples of this include “Gone with the Wind,” a classic by many standards, but today it’s criticized for romanticizing slavery and using racial stereotypes. Another classic, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” is today condemned for one character’s racist portrayal of a Japanese man.

Empowering Parents

In the digital age, protecting our children from the potential harms of film and television content is a responsibility that cannot be overlooked. Just as we carefully curate the apps our kids use, we must be diligent in selecting age-appropriate and safe media for them to consume.

By considering factors such as attention span, content concerns, and the impact of repeated exposure, parents can make informed choices that foster healthy development and critical thinking skills in their children. Ultimately, by prioritizing their well-being and mindful media consumption, we can guide our children towards a brighter, more positive future.

Remember, it’s not about shielding children from the real world entirely, but rather equipping them with the tools to navigate it responsibly and confidently.

Does your family have set rules about which ratings kids can watch? Have you ever been surprised at a certain rating? Share with us in the comments.

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