Navigating Media for Parents

   “I had no idea!” Surprises are fun most of the time. A surprise birthday party, winning the lottery, your best friend’s engagement to the perfect guy – these are all good surprises. But there are also those “not-so-good” surprises.  And all too often one of those occurs when parents actually see the video games, movies, TV shows and other media that their child is viewing.  Making sure your child is only accessing age appropriate content can be very difficult for busy parents who aren’t active consumers of kids’ media; you simply can’t stay current with the “latest and greatest” attractions. 

    By the time their child is three years old, most parents are tired of hearing the catchy sing-song themes of his or her favorite TV show.  So by the time that child is 8 or 9 it’s not uncommon for those same parents to have stopped monitoring that child’s media choices.  And unfortunately, on those rare occasions when they do – when a parent watches a scene, hears a song lyric, or discovers web sites frequented by their kids, the response is the not-so-good version of “I had no idea”. 

    But you don’t have to wait for that dreadful surprise.  There are ways for you to be proactive – to learn about what your kids may be viewing beforehand and avoid that terrible shock.  The following links are a good starting place (but nothing replaces constantly “checking in” from time to time to see what your kids are up to).                                                                                                           
CommonSensemedia.org    – A very comprehensive review site for movies, TV, games, music, websites and books. It not only includes the website’s reviews, it also allows users to add their own ratings. If you’re looking to find age appropriate material, there’s navigation to take you to materials specifically tagged as appropriate for particular ages.

ParentsTV.org – A nonprofit organization dedicated to educating parents about television. This guide is segmented by the day AND the entire week’s TV programming. It’s laid out to mimic  TVGuide.  It only contains the basic channels and prime time television – not the extended cable lineup.  Some shows are not rated, but it’s still a helpful guide. You can also look up specific shows on the website if you have concerns.  They also have reviews of video games  here.

Parent Previews at Movies.Go.Com –  – These reviews include a short snapshot of each movie based on Violence, Sexual Content, Language and Drugs/Alcohol. Movie reviews exist for movies in the theater, movies on DVD and “family-friendly” titles. There are also full movie reviews.  They also have reviews of video games  and music. 

ScreenIt.com  – this site is extremely comprehensive when it comes to their reviews of movies, DVDs and music. Be forewarned that major spoilers are within the reviews – you may find out more than you want to know if it’s a movie you’re considering seeing. While this can be annoying, the site does give parents a complete run down of any questionable content a film might contain.  Navigation is by release date or by title, which is easier for parents looking for the “movie of the week” to watch.

PluggedIn.Com  – this website is maintained by Focus on the Family and contains witty reviews of TV, movies and music. While the content is not as comprehensive as other sites it is condensed and fun to read.

KidsInMind.com –  this site reviews movies and rates them based on sex/nudity, violence/gore and profanity. The reviews contain explanations of each scene on which they based their rating and the reviewer’s take on what the “message” of the movie is.  Navigation is a bit more difficult on this site and there seems to be no clear cut archive to find specific titles.

These are just some of the more popular sites out there for parents to preview content their kids may want to watch (or already be watching).  It’s another instance of the balance the Internet provides – it makes both good and bad content easy to access.  The key is to learn how to use the Internet for good purposes and limit as much of the bad as you can.  Not an easy task.  But hopefully, this list will make that never-ending quest a little bit easier.    

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