Friday, December 12, 2008

Kid-Safe Books...

Hi, I'm Sarah's friend Brett, from NJ. This is my first time posting on here, and usually I'll stay more on topic, but I found something that I thought everyone here would be interested in, and while it's about media in general, it's definitely applicable to books. Sorry for the length, when I start typing, sometimes I can't stop. (P.S. I hope Sarah doesn't block me from posting any more as a result of this). ;-)


Movie ratings drive me bonkers... as my wife Erin and I discuss movies and what is/will be appropriate for our children, we've got a hard and fast limit; no rated-R movies in our home, period. After that, things get a little hazy. The ratings system is just too vague.

How great of a movie is The Incredibles!?! It's PG because it's got some violence, but I personally wouldn't be concerned about a five or six year old watching it; on the other hand, have you ever seen Antz? Antz is also rated PG, but there are dozens of swear words in the movie. I certainly wouldn't want the same child who's just old enough to watch The Incredibles to also be watching Antz.

As for PG-13 movies, there are some that I would be fine with having an 11 or 12 year old watch with me, and then there are others that in my opinion deserved an R-rating and shouldn't be watched at all (while the kids are under my roof at least).

Having lived with this frustration for quite a while, and having discussed with Erin what we could possibly do, I think I may finally have an answer. I found a website today that is much more clear than the (lame) MPAA rating system, and certainly more specific. Please keep in mind that everything from here on is based solely on my brief review of the site as of finding it earlier today... by no means have I looked at every aspect of the site.

Common Sense Media

Pros for the site:

- The site has a solid list of movies with very specific age ratings (year by year). The Incredibles - deemed appropriate for kids 5+; Antz - deemed appropriate for kids 8+. And on top of the movie ratings, there are also ratings for TV Shows, books, websites, games, and music.

A search on J. K. Rowling books shows the following:

Books 1-3: Ages 9+
Books 4-5: Ages 10+
Book 6: Ages 11+
Book 7: Ages 12+
Tales of Beedle the Bard: Ages 10+
Fantastic Beasts/Quidditch Through the Ages: Ages 9+

I don't know if I'd put exactly those ages on each book (I haven't put quite that much thought into it), but that's pretty dang close and follows appropriately the increased intensity as the series progresses.

What about Twilight? Books 1-2 are a clear Age 13+, books 3-4 are an iffy Age 13+.

- The site also links in what it considers to be relevant news articles and includes advice for parents when dealing with kids and media. Each review also includes potential discussion points for parents and their kids based on messages the media seems to be sending.

- One of the other things I like about the site is that it's ultimately answerable to the public. The site has an investment in constant improvement, if they begin to let users down, users will go somewhere else. I believe that the monopolistic MPAA ratings system has outlived it's usefulness and it will be something like this site that will replace it.

- Each review has some detail, outlining language or violence or sexuality. I used to use for this, but the 'outlines' were just too descriptive. The outlines on this site are straightforward, but don't include enough detail to be offensive if you're looking at a questionable movie. In other words, I wouldn't have wanted my kids browsing, but I don't think I'd have a problem with them browsing this site.

- Finally, I think this site could potentially create excellent avenues of discussion between you and your child. If the child is coming to see you about each book they're reading and each movie they're seeing, you're much more in the loop, making it more likely that your kids won't accidentally see inappropriate material and more likely that if they do they'll be able to come talk to you about it. It may be tedious at times for them and for you, but to me it's a small price to pay to make sure I'm a solid component in my child's media consumption.

Cons for the site:

- The selection of reviews is relatively small. They've got all 4 Twilight books, but not Meyer's The Host (which by the way was also excellent). I'm sure you'll have more luck with more popular media while more obscure selections will probably prove less likely to be included (though hopefully that will become less and less of a problem as the site grows, and I noticed that you can request a specific review).

The media count based on my quick look today is as follows:

Movies: 3067
TV Shows: 1923
Books: 1486
Websites: 502
Games: 981
Music: 1035

- Also, obviously each child develops at different speeds and each child can appropriately cope with different subjects at different ages. That being said, the age ratings for the media on the site will have to be adjusted based on the child in question. It would be really awesome if the site gave an option to auto-adjust ratings; say I wanted to be more strict with my kids, I could theoretically enter my desired adjustment, 'add 2 years to each rating', and thus see the new age appropriateness for that specific child... just an idea, not something I've seen on the site (though I emailed them, making the suggestion).

- Finally, I can't seem to find the criteria used to select ratings (seems like it's only available for registered educators, a complaint I included in my email); this is one of my big complaints for the MPAA; the MPAA has vague explanations available, but to me it's not nearly enough. Hopefully user demand will push the site to publish its criteria for assigning age ratings. It may be that the only thing holding them back is legal issues; maybe they don't want someone else stealing their ratings formula and then starting up a competing site? Maybe they can copyright their method? Not sure.

Overall, I'm glad that I've found the site. I've added it to my personal links, and I hope that they continue to grow and improve so that I can start to rely on the ratings as Aeriana (my daughter - almost 1 year old) gets older. One final comment that probably goes without saying is that no ratings system will ever be able to replace an attentive parent. I would hope that no one would ever use this site as an end-all source of what's appropriate for their child. Nothing beats one-on-one discussions and attention for good parenting, but I'm all for getting a little help.


Sarah said...

Having given the site a brief glance, it does seem useful. Good post Brett - thanks for finding it. Based on this, I won't block you from future posts, but that's not a hard and fast guarantee ... we'll see how your next post looks ;)

J/K. I'm always on the lookout for websites like this, since I agree that the MPAA ratings system sucks. I often check out - specifically the movie section - before I go to see something. That way, I at least know what I am in for.

Michelle said...

I loved this! Thanks so much for the tip. I checked it out and loved it. It made me realize I need to be more aware of what my kids are exposed to.