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Movies and TV for Kids

Once upon a time when there were only four television channels…

Young kids in a cinema

Being that you are a dad I’m assuming that you must be old enough to remember those days before Netflix right? Ok, so some of you are younger dads and might not have grown up in a time when there were a couple of TV channels (and that was all!). Let’s travel back in time so we can better understand how we got to where we are and how to move forwards.

Movies and TV for Kids When I Were a Lad

So in the 1970s when I was growing up we had one TV in the lounge room. It was a thick glass screen inside a wooden box with 5 or 6 buttons on, no remote control and the screen was about the size of your average computer monitor these days. There were four TV channels and I felt kind of lucky because a couple years before there were only two channels on a black and white TV. But the channels had set programmes similar to the terrestrial channels we still have today and you had to look in the newspaper to see what was on each day. TV programmes and movies shown by broadcasters seemed to have much greater restrictions than there are today and they were also organised in a way so that shows with higher age restrictions were on later throughout the day. The system that broadcasters use is called ‘watershed’ whereby programmes only deemed suitable for mature audiences due to explicit sex, strong language or graphic violence could only be shown after a particular time. The watershed timeframe varies between countries from 7.30pm to 11.00pm.

Old retro television sets

Even then many movies and shows seemed much tamer than those by today’s standards. Generally speaking there was less explicit sex, strong language and although there was still violence, it wasn’t quite as graphic and special effects weren’t nearly as good. Consequently, the level of realism was not as convincing for both horror and violent shows.

As there was usually only one TV in the house the whole family generally watched it together and there wasn’t much choice as to what we could actually watch due to the limited number of channels. Growing up as a child, I was usually in bed by the time the more adult related content was on anyway so there was much less exposure to the 'nasties' of the screen.

Movies and TV? VHS? Betamax? What are they?

If you wanted to choose a movie to watch then it was down to the local video shop like Blockbuster to rent a movie on a giant cassette tape. Parents would have to drive down to sign out and pay for the rental just for a couple of days. This was quite the commitment since two or three days later you had to go back down to the store to return it (and have rewound the tape) or risk getting a fine. As I got older and was able to trundle down to the video shop myself, there was still an added level of security as to what I could choose because each movie had an age rating on the box. Unlike today, the age rating actually meant something (I know, crazy right?) So it was quite likely that the shop would refuse to rent a child a 15, R or X rated movie.

Of course, the years progressed and things gradually changed with the increased degree of explicit content . The problem though, is that this gradual change of shows becoming more explicit in the use of sex, swearing and violence desensitised us to the level of appropriateness of the shows that both adults and children were exposed to.

More and more channels began appearing followed by satellite and cable TV, giving an increase in choice like never before. The humble video store began to decline with the final nail in the coffin caused by the rise of the streaming services…Netflix, Amazon Prime, Binge and all the rest. Unlimited access to every movie and TV show on demand no matter the age rating or content. Only now there’s not just one TV in the house to watch shows on. There’s multiple TVs in the house along with computers, iPads, mobile phones and everything else that has a screen.

Everything, Everywhere, All at Once

So families no longer have to sit in the lounge choosing what to watch together. Chances are that you’re watching one thing in the living room, whilst one child is watching something else in their bedroom, another is streaming movies to their phone whilst sitting on a bus and a there's toddler on the couch next to you with an iPad watching Peppa Pig. Now this article isn’t about the social disconnect of the family this creates, that’s a different conversation entirely.

This is about the types of shows and the content your children have access to and are being exposed to on a daily basis. How well do you monitor what your children are watching? Do you have age restrictions in place or can your toddler just as easily click on Texas Chainsaw Massacre as they can cartoons? With any luck you’re present in monitoring the content your children are watching and have an open communication with them enough that they will come and let you know if they’ve seen anything inappropriate by mistake.

But what about that content? How do you decide the level of appropriateness for movies and TV shows? How do you know if they are at the right age for certain movies and shows? Are the age restrictions enough of a guide? To be honest it’s a minefield, it really is. The sheer volume of content we have access to is overwhelming and it makes being familiar with which programmes are too violent, have too much sex or inappropriate language nearly impossible to wrap your head around. Maybe this is why, along with the desensitisation towards inappropriate content that we are allowing children to watch things they really shouldn’t be watching. Maybe our barometers have moved in such a way we think that the ’S’ word and ‘F’ words in some shows are now something we no longer have to censor for 5 year olds. Words which you can now already hear frequently on morning radio shows in the car on the school morning drop off.

Smart TV

Know Thy Enemy

Let’s look at how you as a parent can help decide what your kids should and shouldn’t watch and how best to manage it:

Movies have age ratings for a reason, however, children’s maturity levels will vary and not all 11 year olds are the same when it comes to what's suitable for media content. The suggested age rating on a movie is a good guide or starting point, but not necessarily the only decision making factor you use. Older movies that might have had higher age restrictions 30 years ago may be tame by today’s standards. So a film rated for 15 year olds might now be suitable for 12 years olds. I’ve seen plenty of ‘family’ movies and shows that have swearing, innuendo and violence that would never have been in a movie of the same age rating when I was a child. But all of this depends on what you know about your own child. Having previously seen or being familiar with a movie or show helps in this regard greatly.

When I first introduced my own kids to the first Harry Potter movie, I believed they were old enough and mature enough, but there were plenty of times they found it scary but not for the reason you might think. The thing that upset them the most was that Harry might get in trouble for doing the wrong thing. Apparently the monsters and tension of the content didn’t bother them as much as a child getting into trouble at school.

The website Common Sense Media is an amazing site that allows you to search for movies, shows, apps, games and even books to find the age rating along with their own suggested rating and detailed criteria as to why they’ve come up with that conclusion. What gives this a bonus is that there is also a suggested age rating given from parents and kids along with their own personal reviews. Getting feedback from other parents is invaluable as it gives you a much better snapshot as to whether you think your own kids should watch it. You’ll find it here:

Over the years being a teacher I’ve been shocked by some of the shows and games that children as young as 7 and 8 have told me they watch and play. Whether some of these parents are simply unaware of what their kids are watching is one thing, but knowing what they’re watching without checking if it’s appropriate or even worse that they know but think it’s ok mystifies me.

It’s worth noting, that whilst you might be able to restrict what movies and shows your kids are watching at home on the TV, the reality is that many kids are watching just as much inappropriate content on Tik Tok and Youtube.

Big Brother

Streaming services, smart TVs, tablets and phones do have native inbuilt tools for restricting content for your children and setting them up their own ‘child’ accounts. You’ll find other 3rd party apps that also offer even greater features for monitoring and setting parameters at a more granular level. Some of these can be tricky to set up but a quick Google and you’ll find 'how to' videos and chat threads to help you out.

Choosing content for your child to watch isn’t always as straight forward as you making a decision and ‘putting your foot down’. There are times you are also going to have to make hard decisions about giving in to letting your child watch a show that you don’t think they are ready for because of peer pressure. If your child is the only one out of their friendship group that hasn’t seen a particular movie or show that the rest of them have, there is the pressure of letting them watch it too or risk them being ridiculed or isolated because of it. Managing this is easier with younger children, but as they grow to be pre-teens, the pressure is real and it’s going to require some compromise.

Don't Go Solo

Media content your kids are exposed to along with so many other areas of parenting also means you have to be mindful when in a co-parenting situation. If your children are spending time in more than one household you’ll need to have those conversations with their mother to ensure you’re on the same page. If you’re letting your kids only watch PG rated shows and have family restrictions set up but your ex is allowing them to watch shows of a higher rating, then there are going to be arguments and conflict both between you and your children as well as you and your ex. Children will sometimes try to play you off against each other by saying that they’re allowed to watch shows at mum’s house so why can’t they watch them at yours. There have been many occasions where I’ll give my ex a quick call or shoot a text to ask if she’s ok with letting them see a particular movie or show. Open communication and effective co-parenting in all aspects of raising children is always preferable if possible.

TV is eating me

So monitor the content you’re exposing them to as much as you can, set up restrictions depending on the age and maturity of your kids, look for advice on review sites, talk with other parents and find a common ground when co-parenting.

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