Media Rating Systems are Flawed, Says ISU Psychologist

Jul 11, 2018

Iowa State University psychologist Doug Gentile says that research shows parents do not use, appreciate, or agree on the age-based rating systems used for movies, television, and video games in the U.S.. 

"Only six percent of parents say that the movie ratings are always accurate, only five percent of parents say the television ratings are always accurate, and only six percent say the video game ratings are always accurate," says Gentile. "Even if they're using the ratings, often their children see things they didn't expect them to be able to see."

Andrew Owens, a cinematic arts lecturer at the University of Iowa, also thinks the current systems are flawed.

"I think we should just get rid of age-based ratings entirely because I think that they are completely arbitrary. Who is to say that one seventeen year old is mature enough to deal with a certain kind of content versus another seventeen year old?"

Gentile argues that moving towards a universal, content-based rating system could alleviate concerns and make the system easier to navigate for parents.

"I think it would be good if it actually said specific things," says Gentile. "Our movie rating system has verbal content descriptors, but they're really vague. They say, this is rated R for 'some language.' What the heck does that mean?"

Take Star Wars Ep. II, for instance. 

"It was rated PG and it had multiple beheadings. Most parents probably didn't expect beheadings in a PG rated movie."

A content-based rating system could also accomidate differences in family values, as some parents care more about violence than nudity or sexual content, and visa-versa.

"Just let [parents] know what you're actually going to see, and then parents - some care about sex, some care about violence, some care about different things - then they can choose [based on] whatever's appropriate for their family's values."

Rating systems are largely controled by the industries they're meant to rate, which Gentile compares to "putting the kids in charge of the candy store."

Instead, he says, "we could have one universal rating system. It could be created by an independent committee that includes child development experts, parents, and pediatricians, and I think it should include media representatives as well."

In this hour of Talk of Iowa, host Charity Nebbe talks with Gentile, Owens, and Alfred Martin, an assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Iowa.