Study: Parents agree ‘PG-15’ rating more appropriate for PG-13 movies with gun violence

PHILADELPHIA — Is it time to revamp the movie rating system? With gun reform as hotly contested as ever among Americans in recent years, a new study finds that many parents would agree that PG-13 movies with strong gun violence should fall under a “PG-15” rating instead.

A study conducted by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) indicated parents are more willing to allow their children to see gun violence in non-R-rated movies if the violence appeared to be “justified,” but even still, such gun violence in current PG-13 movies is more appropriate for ages 15 and up.

The parents in the study defined “justified” gun violence as that which is used in the defense of a loved one or oneself. “Unjustified” gun violence, which parents were less tolerant of, was defined as violence that has no socially redeeming purpose. Parents said movies with “unjustified,” but relatively bloodless gun violence were more suitable for 16-year-olds.

“The findings suggest that parents may want a new rating, PG-15, for movies with intense violence,” says lead author Daniel Romer, research director of the APPC, in a media release. “Violent movies often get a PG-13 rating by omitting the consequences of violence such as blood and suffering, and by making the use of violence seem justified. But parents of teenagers say that even scenes of justified violence are upsetting and more appropriate for teens who are at least 15.”

For the study, researchers showed various violent movie clips to 610 parents who had at least one child aged six to 17. Clips depicting justified violence were taken from the PG-13 films “Taken,” “Live Free or Die Hard,” “White House Down,” and “Terminator: Salvation.” They also viewed scenes showing unjustified violence from the PG-13 films “Skyfall” and “Jack Reacher.” Violent scenes from the R-rated films “Training Day” and “Sicario” were shown as well.

The results showed that parents grew increasingly upset as they watched the clips, regardless of whether the violence was justified or not. Though they weren’t as disturbed by scenes showing justified violence, the majority agreed that the movies didn’t seem appropriate for children under 15.

Interestingly, the segment most likely to say that the films seemed fine for 13-year-old children were parents who were frequent moviegoers.

“Hollywood is exploiting the movie rating system by leaving out harmful consequences like blood and suffering from PG-13 films,” argues Romer. “By sanitizing the effects of violence, moviemakers are able to get a PG-13 rating and a wider audience for their films. But this gun violence may be just as brutal and potentially harmful to young viewers.”

Previous research by the APPC found that gun violence in the most popular PG-13 rated films has nearly doubled since the rating was first introduced in 1984.

The study was published May 14, 2018 in the journal Pediatrics.

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