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Last night was the 84th annual celebration of cinema known as the Oscars. As I was watching them my thoughts turned to my personal appreciation of experiencing and creating movies. A movie can immerse you in a world unknown, inspire personal and global action, instill hope and open minds and hearts to others. It is a very powerful medium of expression and storytelling. However, with all great methods of engaging the human spirit there is a need for responsible caution, especially for younger viewers.

In thinking about this post, I recalled one evening when I was in 6th grade on a middle school retreat in Warner Springs, CA. After a fun day of tennis, hiking and swimming, we all hung out in the main hall of the campsite for some hot chocolate and a movie. The movie chosen for us was Rodney Dangerfield’s classic “Back to School,” a hilarious movie about a wealthy, slightly obnoxious, older man who goes back to college to help his son. Sounds harmless and appropriate for a group of 6th graders? Not exactly.

While I don’t remember every inappropriate word used or innuendo, one memory remains emblazoned forever. At one point in the movie Rodney Dangerfield mistakenly opens a shower curtain to reveal a naked co-ed taking a shower and exposing all of us to something we never saw before. While this was shocking at the time, the scene is not what I remember most, but rather what occurred seconds earlier.

As the main character enters the bathroom and it is clear someone is in the shower, the Rabbi who was chaperoning us starts running from the back of the room to the front in an apparent panic. While at that moment, I was not clear was happening and thought maybe the Rabbi was getting in some much needed exercise, this is what I remember most (and in slow motion).

Imagine if you will a hefty Rabbi running in slow-motion towards the TV, screaming “Nooooooooooooo” and aiming his finger towards the off button as he lunges forward to shield us from the impending age inappropriate scene that he either forgot about or did not know was coming. Needless to say he was a little too late (possibly due to excessive smoking). Before he could cut off the power, our jaws dropped and gasps and giggles could be heard in the quiet desert night that evening.

While the website kids-in-mind.com did not exist prior to that fateful night (nor the internet), I wonder if we would have found ourselves watching Bambi or the like if the Rabbi would have had a site like it to check? On a side note, the next night we watched Caddyshack (one of my favorite movies till this day) so clearly no movie reconnaissance occurred.

The American Psychological Association estimates that teens are exposed to 14,000 sexual references & innuendos per year on TV. Young teens (ages 13-15) rank entertainment media as the top source of information about sexuality and sexual health. Three out of four teens say “TV shows and movies make it seem normal for teenagers to have sex.” So clearly sexuality in the media influences young viewers and as parents we should be asking if the TV and movies are the best educators. Additionally, exposure to sexuality and violence at younger ages can have negative developmental effects. In fact, researchers have suggested that exposing children to sexual scenes in the media is a form of sexual abuse and violence in media has been found to lead to aggressive behavior in some.

As Parents, we should feel compelled to take responsibility for educating our children and having conversation with them about sex, sexuality and developmental events like puberty, not gossip girl or Channing Tatum in The Vow. We should also feel compelled to protect our children from exposure to media that is potentially dangerous or is not in line with your personal family values or beliefs. One step towards this is simple awareness of what our kids are watching, what we are allowing them to watch and what they want to watch so that we can make informed decisions about what it appropriate for us and our families. This is where sites like kids-in-mind.com come in.

Kids-in-mind.com is a comprehensive website that reviews movies not for entertainment value but for appropriate content. They rate movies on three scales; Sex/Nudity, Violence/Gore and Profanity. Additionally, they present “discussion topics” of the movie and overall message. If you have never been to the site, you will be surprised by the detail in which they describe what occurs in the movie within the three areas reviewed.

The other night I watched Tower Heist. Sadly, I got suckered into the hope that maybe this will be the one where Eddie Murphy is funny again. It was not. The next day my son, who is twelve, asked if he could see it. Although it is rated PG-13, my initial reaction was that it was clean and with the exception of some mild violence it would be fine. However, I said that I needed to check kids-in-mind as I knew that years of movie viewing may have desensitized me to various themes, comments and language that I would prefer my son not experience at this young age (or ever for that matter, but I will deal with today for now). You can read the details of the movie from kids-in-mind by clicking here, but when I got the run down of the language used, sexual innuendo and violent scenes it gave me an overview that made me see clearly that it was not a movie for my son.

As the mission of the site states, “The purpose of kids-in-mind.com is to provide parents and other adults with objective and complete information about a film’s content so that they can decide, based on their own value system, whether they should watch a movie with or without their kids.” This it truly does.

The level of detail presented at the site goes beyond just helping parents decide if there are explicit or clearly age-appropriate scenes. The detail allows the parents to decide “based on their own value system” what they would like to expose or not expose their child to. That is the greatest merit of the site. Knowledge is power and kids-in-mind gives all of us parents the power we need to make educated decisions on what our kids are exposed to when we put a movie in our Netflix cue. Hopefully, it will help all of us pick a great movie next family movie night and help 6th grade teachers everywhere do their homework.

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