June 20, 2011 -- New research indicates that many parents believe media ratings help them make decisions about what type of content they allow their children to be exposed to, but improvements in media rating systems are needed.
Most parents are concerned about media content, whether it's viewed on television, at the movies, on video games, or handheld devices, according to a new study based on three national surveys.
The research, involving the opinions of more than 2,300 adults, also indicates, however, that there is sometimes disagreement on matters involving age appropriateness for various kinds of content. What some might deem appropriate for one specific childhood age group might be considered inappropriate by other adults.
Improvements Needed in Rating Systems
Many parents believe that current rating systems are inaccurate and need to be improved, according to the study. And parents think improvements in ratings would help them make decisions about what types of media they should allow for their children and the types of content they should allow at various ages.
A majority of parents surveyed felt there should be a universal rating system for all media, including web sites, music CDs, and games played on handheld devices.
Current rating systems vary widely among movies, television, and video games and can be confusing, according to analysis of the three surveys.
The researchers state that the rating systems have many problems, including being applied in an unreliable manner.
For example, the researchers cite a previous study of 2,757 television programs in which 79% contained violence but did not have a rating of "V."
Also, 91% of shows with offensive language lacked an "L" warning, and 92% of programs with sexual content had no "S" to designate that they did.
The researchers also mention "ratings creep," meaning that ratings over time tend to become more lenient.
They cite another previous study of 2,000 films and found that one that was rated PG-13 in 2003 included about the same amount of violence, nudity, and offensive language as one rated "R" a decade earlier.
Parents were asked views on the age appropriateness of allowing kids to see such things as romantic kissing, partial nudity, implied sexual situations, depictions of drug and alcohol use, and to hear offensive language or insults about body parts.
They also were asked about when kids of various ages should be allowed to be exposed to situations of sexual innuendo and suggestive sexual dialogue. Opinions varied widely.
The largest percentage of parents indicated age 17 and older might be appropriate for media involving sexual situations, explicit sex, explicit dialogue, partial nudity, and commercials with sexual content.
Researchers say opinions differed widely depending on whether participants identified as frequent or infrequent churchgoers.
For example, 15% of infrequent churchgoers indicated they would always filter out sexy commercials, and 6% found these commercials inappropriate for all ages.
But 39% of frequent churchgoers indicated they would filter out sexy commercials, and 21% found them inappropriate for all viewers.
Researchers reached a number of key conclusions. For example, they say that:
- Parents want detailed content ratings along with age-based ratings.
- Ratings only are effective if they can help parents make decisions, but current systems vary and can be confusing
- Different demographics variables, such as church attendance and personal values, may be related to perceptions of age appropriateness for different kinds of content.
- It would be impossible to have age-based ratings that would be deemed suitable by all demographic groups; content-based ratings may be preferable to age-based ratings.
"Clearly defined and available content descriptors provide the most information and they allow parents to make their own decisions about age appropriateness," the researchers write.
"Our studies revealed that parents not only want changes to the ratings, but that they would support the creation of a universal system," the researchers write. "Given that we are well on the way to digital 'convergence,' where one can watch movies, television shows, or video games all on the same device, it seems that the time may be right to begin seriously considering taking this next step to improve media ratings."
The research is published in the July issue of Pediatrics.