Film ratings – Are We Overprotective of our Children?

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Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Exactly how much films and video games influence our children has always been a worry for modern parents.

With sensationalist media quick to cling on to any headline grabbing conclusion, cases of young impressionable teens being victims of what they’ve seen has regularly been brought to light. However, do these solitary and isolated cases overshadow the facts and wrongfully target worried parents by showing them a picture without context?

Who censors films?

The BBFC (British Board of Film Classification; before 1985: British Board of Film Censors) was established in 1912, when the film industry decided that censorship should be “in house”, and leaving the regulation of films based on content would be more dangerous if left in the hands of the government. This, in theory, was a good idea with filmmakers deciding themselves if something being portrayed required closer inspection or needed to be removed.

However, the government and the BBFC had close ties, especially during (and just before) the Second World War when the Home Office regulated films for propaganda. Later on, the responsibilities of censorship moved to the Ministry of Information. With liberalism at the forefront in the latter part of the century, the BBFC’s primary focus became what we recognise it for now: sex and violence.

Appropriate censorship levels

This brings us to the question: what is too much sex and/or violence? Is BBFC catering to the overprotective masses’ demands or is it simply censoring to prevent controversy?

One would imagine it is a case of both and this leads us to the increasingly grey areas of this debate. When children see violence on screen as a way of resolving issues, where often it is glorified, one would assume that they are desensitised to it which results in them becoming more violent. You could say the same for sex, with sexuality being represented so openly nowadays, our children would presumably seek to emulate this behaviour.

Of course, no-one is lobbying for a complete ban of ratings. It is important to filter out what is appropriate for our children to be watching and what isn’t. However, what constitutes as being appropriate is a murky subject and something that differs from individual to individual, from parent to parent.

Studies have repeatedly shown that despite increasing violent and sexual depictions in film and other outlets, youth crime has experienced steady decline throughout the years with it currently being at an all-time low. The only difference, it seems, is the media coverage of it and our subsequent exposure. One or two isolated incidents make the front page and suddenly we have something new to panic about.

Cultural differences

This overprotectiveness is evident when ratings are compared between the BBFC and other countries such as the United States. Some films, such as The Sixth Sense, Easy A and W., which received PG-13 (equivalent to 12 or 12A here) ratings in the States, received the much harder 15 here. The opposite is also true in some cases, of course, which would imply that what decides what is “taboo” for a certain age is a cultural and very relative thing.

There have been plenty of instances where I have seen a film with a 15 rating and come out thinking that there was absolutely nothing within it that would warrant such a rating, nothing a younger 10-year-old me wouldn’t have been able to handle. What can be taken from these experiences is that the exposure to these depictions aren’t as important to our children; after all, violence is an aspect of the “real world” and sex is a very relevant matter even for young children.

What is really crucial is proper education and guidance, so that our kids can tell between right and wrong and are able to understand what is good for themselves and the community around them. No matter how much authority we give a “board”, the adults we want our kids to become is dependent on us and the guidance we offer.