MPAA Ratings: Relic or Tool? | Teen Ink

MPAA Ratings: Relic or Tool?

May 18, 2019
By katriggsby BRONZE, Reno, Nevada
katriggsby BRONZE, Reno, Nevada
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) discriminates against younger teenagers by purposefully using an old-fashioned rating system that stops teens from seeing movies that are developed specifically for them. Sadly, this target audience can often be helped by the very movie they are not allowed to see. The MPAA’s Classification and Ratings Administration (CARA) is completely run by parents, who are tasked to police the content by assigning ratings to films. What an organization like CARA doesn’t take into consideration is the desensitization of  teen movie-goers. Even before they enter the movie theater, teens have been exposed to instances of profanity usage and thousands of violent images. While MPAA’s rating system does protect young children from seeing exceedingly graphic scenes on screen, it is not as a reliable guide for parents of older teens.

CARA’s entry level requirement states that “Voters must have children between the ages of five and 15 when they begin their terms; can't be connected in any way to the film industry; and are booted out of office after the end of the full term, once all of their children are over the age of 21, or at the MPAA’s discretion.” (Baker). The MPAA’s official website clarifies further, “[...]the film rating system provides parents with the information needed to determine if a film is appropriate for their children,” (Valenti). This rating system was built for parents as a guideline to help them censor content for their children, but according to the MPAA, the age group that saw the most films, in 2015, were children aged 12-17 (Dodd). These teen consumers should have more input regarding movies that are targeted to them. Instead the adult decision makers are influenced by an organization run by a small number of parents, who may not have the same values and do not know their children. The MPAA literally contradicts the information on their website where they state, “After all, parents are best suited to knowing each of their children’s individual sensitivities and sensibilities to pick movies for them,” (McMahon).

The repetitive use of certain profanity in a film can make or break its rating, according to the MPAA. If a film uses a particular four-letter word once, the rating is immediately raised to the PG-13 category, meaning that the film may not be suitable for children under the age of 13. Yet if a second use of the same word is uttered in the film, it automatically raises the rating to R, meaning that the film is not suitable for anyone under the age of 17 (MPAA). This rating injustice recently arose in a controversy regarding Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, “Eighth Grade.” A film about an eighth grade girl’s final week of eighth grade currently has the same rating as Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” movies (Harbison). The reason for this is mainly due to the profanity used in the film. The handful of times a certain word is used is what makes the film earn its R rating. Burnham even went so far to allow free, nationwide screenings of his film, with no ratings enforced, so actual eighth graders could have the opportunity to see the film (Burnham). The effectiveness of this kind of profanity policing is disputed by Timothy Jay, a psychology professor at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts who suggests, “By the time kids go to school now, they’re saying all the words we’re trying to protect them from on television… We find their swearing really takes off between the [ages] of 3 and 4,” (Editor).

These days, younger movie goers are desensitized to violent images even before they see a movie. Certain films that were rated R years ago are less violent than some of the films rated PG-13 today. According to an online article published by NBC News, PG-13 movies such as, “The Hunger Games,” and “Avengers” contain more violence than R rated films of the 1980s (Dahl). For example, 1990’s “Die Hard 2” was rated R. The sequel in the series, 2007’s “Live Free or Die Hard,” had more gun violence, but was rated PG-13. Teens are also exposed to more violence in video games, and TV viewing. While parents can deny a teen from viewing age appropriate movies, the news on TV is available to all ages. “Psychologists disagree on whether there is a link between watching violence and committing violence, but there does seem to be anecdotal evidence for such a link. School shootings are a recent phenomenon, and they have been taking place at a time where violence in the media is at an all-time high,” (Netzley 43). With daily exposure of violence on a small screen, today’s teen audiences should be given more consideration by both the MPAA and their parents when deciding what films they can view.

The MPAA may not have a perfect process, but they have successfully rated films for over 50 years. In recent decades, they have adjusted their rating scale to incorporate changing tolerances in society. The move to add a PG-13 rating resulted in age-appropriate movies being seen by more teens. According to Huffington Post, “[Children] are watching more violence on [screens] than ever before with parental supervision,” (Drexler). The American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry states “The typical American child will view more than 200,000 acts of screen violence before age 18,” (Drexler). Monitoring what children watch is a parent’s role. These ratings, although wildly inconsistent, give adults some guidelines to police what their children view.

At first glance, an association made up of parents who suggest a movie rating scale seems like a good idea. But ultimately, the largest consumers of movies are teens. Although they need their parent’s permission, and money, they are the target audience for movie directors and producers. In fact, movie directors are going around MPAA by showing no-rating screenings in order to allow teens to watch a film that was made for them. It’s a shame that more parents are not aware that a handful of parents in CARA are determining the scale. Parents know their children and what they are capable of processing and understanding. These days, the rising number of violent images shown to children on small screens make the MPAA scale seem more like a relic than a tool for both parents and teenagers.

The author's comments:

The Film Industry is an industry that has always fascinated me, and hopefully one day I will be a part of it. I've always questioned the rating system created by the MPAA and CARA, and I really believe that it should be challenged. The movies being made in this day in age require a new rating system because the 50-year-old one that is currently being used isn't as relevant as it once was. 

Works Cited

Baker, Craig S. “How Do Movies Get Their Ratings?” Mental Floss, 10 July 2014,

Valenti, Jack., 2018,

Dodd, Christopher J. “Theatrical Market Statistics.” MPAA,

McMahon, Kelly. “GUIDE TO RATINGS.” Ratings Guide, 2018,

MPAA. “CARA Rules.” Motion Picture Association of America Inc., 1 Jan. 2010.

Harbison, Autumn. “The MPAA's Movie Rating System Is Useless and Needs to Go.” Mic, 7 May 2019,

Burnham, Bo. “Since Eighth Grade Is Rated R and That's Sort of Stupid We're Doing Free Screenings in Every State This Wednesday with No Ratings Enforced. Come Watch, Kids!” Twitter, Twitter, 6 Aug. 2018,

Editor, Psych Central News. “Children Are Swearing More Often, At Earlier Age.” Psych Central, 8 Aug. 2018,

Dahl, Melissa. “PG-13 Movies Are Now More Violent than R-Rated '80s Flicks -Study.”, NBCUniversal News Group, 11 Nov. 2013,

Netzley, Patricia D. Issues in Censorship. Lucent Books, 2000.

Drexler, Peggy. “The Problem With PG-13 Rated Films.” HuffPost, HuffPost, 22 Aug. 2013,

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