The Movies and Common Sense

Andrea Evans
June 1, 2009

From TVs, computers, and movie screens, our children are bombarded with media. As parents, one of our responsibilities is to manage their access to that media; to set appropriate limits regarding how much media they should watch, if any; and to select age-appropriate material that they enjoy. The sheer number of media options, however, makes that task increasingly difficult. How can a parent really know if the latest movie or TV show is suitable for her child?  

Fortunately, there is Common Sense Media, a comprehensive online resource for parents seeking information about media content for their children.  Founded in 2003 by Jim Steyer, a highly respected San Francisco-based educator and lawyer, Common Sense Media provides trustworthy information and easy-to-use tools to help parents and children make better and more informed decisions about media choices. Looking for some guidance? The Common Sense Tips for a Healthy Media "Diet" is a great place to start. They shared their tips with us, and we bring them to you below, just in time for the summer movie season!

Establish media guidelines for your kids.

  • Set media time limits and stick to them. Experts recommend no more than one to two hours a day of screen time.
  • Check content and ratings at in advance to choose media that is age-appropriate.
  • Keep media out of kids' bedrooms. Locate media in a central place where their media use can be supervised.
  • Make a NO media rule during mealtimes, while doing homework, and before bedtime.
  • Consider using parental controls - blocking technology like the V-Chip for TV or filtering software for the Internet.
  • Get kids into the habit of asking permission to use media.
  • Make sure babysitters and other caregivers know your media guidelines.
  • Push the remote button to "off" and get kids to read, exercise, or play every day for the same amount of time they spend using media.

Use media together and talk about what you see, hear, and read.

Whenever you can, watch, play, listen, and surf with your kids. Talk about the content. When you can’t be there, ask them about the media they’ve used.

Practice media literacy – help kids question and analyze media messages by sharing your values. Let them know how you feel about solving problems with violence, stereotyping people, selling products using sex or cartoon characters, or advertising to kids in schools or movie theaters.

Help kids connect what they learn in the media to events and other activities in which they’re involved, like playing sports and creating art, in order to broaden their understanding of the world.

Be a role model.

When kids are around, set an example by using media the way you want them to use it.

Use the VCR or TiVo™ to record shows that may be inappropriate for your kids to watch – even the news – and watch them at a later time when kids are not around.

Voice your opinion and keep informed.

Write a letter or send an email to let media companies and government representatives know what you don't like about media. Make sure to also let advertisers who sponsor the media know how you feel too. And don't forget to compliment media companies when you like something and would like to see more of it!

Help kids write letters when they want media producers to know how they feel.

Keep informed about policy and research concerning children and media at

If you haven't visited Common Sense Media yet, we highly recommend that you do so. Here's what they have to say about two movies currently in theaters:

Pixar's new movie Up (rated PG) is suitable for children 6 and older and has "a few potentially frightening scenes involving a band of trained talking dogs trying to get rid of the protagonists, some moments where characters almost fall from a floating house, and some guns firing." Read the full review

Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian is suitable for children age 7 and up. Parents should "[e]xpect lots of generally lighthearted, effects-heavy chaos and action, with slapstick chases and confrontations and some moments of peril and danger." Read the full review



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