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In Theory: Taking a stab at PG-13 violence

Researchers have discovered that the amount of gun violence in some PG-13 movies is now greater than in R-rated films.

PG-13 movies are “the ones that target children, and the violence that is shown contains guns,” according to Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University. He says, “There have been hundreds of studies showing that exposure to media violence ... increases aggressive thoughts, angry feelings, and aggressive behavior.”

Critics of the way movies are rated point to the fact that the R-rating is regularly applied to movies that contain fleeting nudity or vulgarities, whereas action movies involving death and destruction are given the PG-13 rating.

Scott Poland, professor of psychology at Nova Southeastern University, says that parents assume a PG-13 rating means little to no sexual innuendoes or bad language, but “I don’t think they’re going to be tuned in to the amount of violence ... we’re upping everything in terms of the violence, the body count, the goriness.”


Q: What advice would you give to parents whose young teens want to see a PG-13 film?


I worry about exposure to violence in media, but my worries come more from video games than video movies. My youngest is just recently old enough for PG-13 films, and it seems that she can handle some of what they shovel. The boy is now old enough to make up his own mind, and still he isn’t convinced by watching shoot-em-ups that he should procure a firearm to go unload on innocent civilians.

This question raises eyebrows among gun owners, though, because rather than the issue being about violence in general, it’s about “gun” violence. Forget about hobbits chopping the heads off orcs, or Rick hacking through a line of walking dead via machete; no, it’s gun violence that’s turning our offspring into Children of the Corn!


And why is sex always compared to violent content, as if one has anything akin the other? If my kid happens to view “Saving Private Ryan,” I know that violence will not be encouraged, though I expect aggressive feelings, as that is always something mustered in war, and sports, and anything with risk and danger. I don’t really expect any acting out, unless phone calls are made and some paintball combat is scheduled. That, I would probably approve. But I really don’t want my kids getting the idea that fornication is a sport, like Hollywood advertises, because this they can emulate. They can’t really be the Terminator or Jason Bourne, but they can get pregnant in the basement. So ratings for R and PG-13, I think, are not too far off.

My advice would be to weigh what’s viewed. Does it make the villain a hero, or the hero a villain? Is force exercised so that good prevails? Look, when the going gets tough, sometimes the good need to get tougher, and we like that, and that’s why it’s in the movies. It’s also in the Bible.

The Rev. Bryan Griem
Montrose Community Church


My first bit of advice, and my own practice, is not to assume that the content of PG-13 movies is harmless or safe for children, or even adults. Graphic violence in them is one issue, or course, but what concerns me even more is the senseless and gratuitous manner in which God’s name is blasphemed in most of them. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” says Proverbs 9:10. There can never be good consequences from discarding reverence for God. When we watch a movie we open our minds up to what is portrayed, we let the content into the “house” of our hearts. What is seen and heard is often difficult to erase or ignore. For parents, we might ask, “Do I want my children to learn from the example set by the characters of this movie?” If not, then it’s not a good movie for them (or us) to see.

I personally understand the struggle of parents and teens regarding which movies are appropriate. Many movies have compelling and attractive stories and impressive special effects. We are intrigued by the movie trailers and we want to see an exciting “thrill ride” show. But they’re not worth the assault on our souls of blasphemous language or overly graphic violence. I plead with our friends in the moviemaking industry: Good stories don’t need bad language that alienates your audience. Good moviemakers don’t need graphic portrayals of violence to effectively tell a story.

Pastor Jon Barta
Valley Baptist Church



We should be clear that the films we are talking about appeal and are marketed almost exclusively to boys and young men. As a mom of daughters, I have had plenty of experience influencing my girls to avoid inane and insulting fare, but the question of too much violence just hasn’t come up.

I am all for freedom of expression but we are responsible for our children and we should take seriously the many studies that connect violence in media with anger and aggression.

It would appear that the movie industry regulating itself to curb excessively violent content works about as well as letting the financial sector police itself. That is to say, not at all. Giving other adult fare an R rating while violence earns PG-13 makes no sense.

PG-13 is even more meaningless with no parental guidance being exercised. In my experience, outright prohibition will probably backfire. Teenagers are striving to become individuals and on the lookout for ways to distinguish themselves from their parents. Why create forbidden fruit?

Here’s my advice in general to parents — you are the ocean in which your little fish swim. Make the water rich with the values you hope that they too will embrace, by your thoughts, words and deeds.

Also expose them to lots of good films, as they are meant to be seen on a real screen in a dark theater with other viewers in a shared experience. Movie-wise kids will recognize that most of these PG-13 gore-fests are a word for a dice game that I shouldn’t use here.

Roberta Medford



I would give parents the same advice about PG-13 movies that I give them regarding any experience they allow their child to participate in. In Scripture, parents are held responsible by the Lord for the character they build into their children. Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train children up in the way they should go and when they are older they will not depart from it.”

Scripture clearly states that our thought life molds and shapes our character. Proverbs 4:23 declares, “Above all else, guard your heart diligently, for everything you do flows from it.” Proverbs 23:7 adds, “As a person thinks in their heart, so they become.”

We are advised to “do best by filling your minds and meditating on things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, gracious, compelling — the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.” (Philippians 4:8)

For me, the issue is not whether the violence in PG-13 movies leads to more violent actions in society, but in what it models for teens about maturity of character. Do I want my child to look up to some Hollywood movie character who is so self-absorbed that all they know is to force their will on everyone around them through violence? Is this the maturity and stability of character found in humanitarian contributors like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Mother Theresa? Is it the stuff of great athletes, scientists, world leaders or philanthropists?

We have our children for a short time, but our impact on them is indelible. I would encourage every parent to promote their child’s involvement in activities that develop maturity of character and build self-esteem. If you do, you won’t have to be wondering where your child is tonight and what they are doing.

Pastor Ché Ahn
HRock Church


The research just confirms what most parents have concluded on their own. So the question we need to ask is this: What value do films spiced with excessive violence, nudity or profanity actually offer that offsets the potential harm they may cause?

In a 2003 address, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the LDS church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles pointed out that “choosing the trendy, the titillating, the tawdry’’ in the media we watch “can cause us to end up, if we are not careful, choosing the same things in the lives we live.”

For concerned parents the ratings system should just be a starting point. The system is run by the Motion Picture Assn. of America, the lobbying arm of Hollywood’s six largest studios and the actual ratings board is made up of selected parents with no affiliation with the movie industry. They watch the film, discuss it and assign a rating.

The MPAA’s website details just what is allowed within each category. Violence in a PG-13 film is measured primarily by explicitness rather than frequency. So up to a certain point heroes and villains can fire at will as long as the gore is minimal. Some nudity is permitted, although guidelines offer the dubious assurance that it “generally will not be sexually oriented.”

What should parents do? Don’t just rely on the ratings. On “Movie Mom” Nell Minow provides a reliable assessment of objectionable content and recommends an age range for a movie. is similar, but also gives a summary of potentially objectionable scenes.

There probably is no way to be absolutely certain without watching the movie yourself. But there are aids that parents can use to identify films that enrich and entertain children without dragging them through the muck.

Michael White
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
La Crescenta


Unfortunately, getting caught up in the distinction between movies rated PG-13 and rated R is almost irrelevant at this point, since I believe that in general our children are exposed to far too much violence and sex.

Almost everywhere we turn today — whether it’s movies, TV, the Internet, music, or even good old-fashioned books — there are alarming levels of carnage and sexual imagery. Casually exposing our children to this explicit material is dangerous and can have lifelong effects on a young mind.

Study after study has shown that our formative years are critical for developing positive views and healthy character traits. The values that we absorb as young people often stay with us for life — especially when it comes to our ideas about responsibility to others and our attitudes about the opposite sex. When a child repeatedly encounters extreme examples of violence or sex, through movies or any other media, there is a risk that he or she will become a psychologically challenged adult who is anesthetized to bloodshed and has unhealthy or even dangerous views about sex.

I believe it is critical that society as a whole recognizes these risks.

As responsible adults, we must do whatever we can to impose proper limits and controls on what our children are exposed to. It is incumbent upon parents to be vigilant about what their charges are watching, reading and listening to. Other relatives — and even educators — have a role to play, but the obligation ultimately rests with parents. We must be involved in our children’s lives, provide nurturing environments, and exercise our authority when necessary. Positive engagement and healthy relationships are the key ingredients to ensure that adolescents adopt balanced, wholesome views on the important elements of life.

Rabbi Simcha Backman
Chabad Jewish Center


First of all, this is not a yes or no question. Being a good parent means being involved in all facets of your children’s lives. Of course, being a good parent doesn’t mean you overdo it, either. What’s called for is balance: concern for your children without smothering them while at the same time offering gentle guidance so that they find their path in life.

And don’t let the movies do your thinking for you! Some PG-13 pictures may be OK for your children to see, and some may not. Also, violence in movies will not automatically result in violent behavior on the part of your children, unless they have deep-seated, long-lasting anger and frustrations. Do your children suffer from being bullied? Do your children bully somebody else? Are your children being abused by you or somebody else? Are your children being neglected by you or your spouse?

Being a good parent means you are in touch with what is going on in the life of your child. It isn’t just enough to provide a nice comfortable home in the Foothills, and it isn’t enough just to give things to your child. Do you love your child? Then how do you show that love? Love is an active word, and it means doing. How do you do for your children? Do you listen? Do you spend time with them? Listen, love is hard work, and it involves action.

The Rev. Skip Lindeman
La Cañada Congregational Church
La Cañada Flintridge