Jun 05

Family Movie Night: How to Avoid Unpleasant Surprises

see no evil hear no evil speak no evil

Wouldn’t it be nice if movies were always as family-friendly as their ratings claim them to be? Unfortunately, movie ratings don’t always tell us everything we’d like to know when selecting appropriate media for our families. Most of us have had an experience when we are excited to see a new movie. Both the rating and the trailer seem appropriate and so we assume it to be a wholesome family film. But then while watching it, we become disappointed at an unnecessary inappropriate scene that seemed to come out of the blue, or shocked by language or themes that we didn’t expect to be in there. As parents who are trying our best to guard our children against the impact of harmful media, this is the last thing we need.

parental media filters

Luckily, there are some great tools available that can help us become more informed in what media we choose to consume. About a year ago, I learned about a wonderful resource called CommonSenseMedia.org. It has now become my favorite go-to place for finding out everything I should know before deciding if I really want to see a certain movie.

movie rating review

There is a “What Parents Need to Know” section that gives a review explaining some themes and specific content to consider when deciding whether or not to allow that movie in their home. There is also a section where other parents and kids can contribute their own reviews of the movie. For newer releases, the website provides short video clips with review commentary.

what parents need to know

However, the most helpful part of this resource, in my opinion, are the details it provides regarding the actual movie content. Common Sense Media goes above and beyond the simple rating system by actually outlining for you the specific items of concern. They give a 1-5 star rating for how much violence, sex, language, consumerism, and substance use there is in the film as well as giving ratings for positive messages and role models. You can actually hover over these items to see an expanded list of every act under each of those categories that merits the rating. No more unpleasant surprises!

what's behind the rating

Another awesome feature – Common Sense Media isn’t just for movies. It also provides helpful content reviews for books, TV shows,  websites, apps, video games, and songs. How great is that? Now parents can be in-the-know regarding all types of media their children consume.

While each has the potential of providing wholesome entertainment, so much of what has been produced for our listening and watching pleasure is not of the caliber to inspire and encourage young men [and women]. In fact, most of what is produced is degrading. The flip of a switch right in your own home has the potential of destroying within you a sense of what is right and what is wrong” (Elder L. Tom Perry)

Common Sense Media can be a wonderful blessing for parents who are concerned about protecting their families from harmful media, but it shouldn’t be considered the ultimate source of all truth. For instance, I’ve noticed that their reviews don’t always take into account some of the more subtle messages & underlying themes (which I believe can be just as harmful). But it’s a lot better than relying on the movie ratings themselves. In the end, prayer and following the spirit should always be our ultimate guide in making media decisions, but Common Sense Media can be a great help.

I highly recommend using Common Sense Media and believe it to be a valuable resource for families. Each time I use it, I feel empowered. I love the control it gives me over my media choices. Hooray for no more unpleasant surprises!



UPDATE:  Since I wrote this article, I’ve become aware of something you should know. Apparently CommonSenseMedia does NOT include instances of ‘taking the Lord’s name in vain’ under profanity. As a Christian I’m more bothered by this than by other types of swearing, but I guess they don’t consider blasphemy a form of profanity, so keep that in mind!

Also, I’ve become aware of an awesome resource that I think everyone should know about!  VidAngel.com. I’ll probably write a post on it one of these days. You can rent movies online for only a dollar and they have tons of filters you can use to omit potentially inappropriate parts (including taking the Lord’s name in vain, and lots of other potentially offensive things). So awesome!!  

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