Parents prefer rating media content to age-based ratings

“Adult RP. Must be 18 to follow.”

How many times have you seen that in a role-play character’s bio? Ever wonder how effective it is at deterring kids and teens from following someone? Ever wonder if anyone even notices that warning, let alone takes it to heart? Is there even a point to including the warning in your bio at all?

Not surprisingly, parents do want to know what kind of media their children are consuming, whether it’s a movie, television show, video game, music, book, or online content. The problem is not all of these types of media are rated and the ratings vary significantly. Not only that, a new study from researchers at Iowa State University reveals that the current age-based rating system doesn’t meet parental needs.

“We have always assumed there was a general agreement underlying age-based ratings that a certain type of content is acceptable for a child of a certain age,” said Douglas Gentile, an associate professor of psychology and one of the authors of the new study. “But nobody, to my knowledge, ever attempted to verify that assumption. In this study we directly asked parents what content they care about, would they restrict their kids from viewing it, and at what age do they think it’s acceptable for kids to see each type of content. The surprising result is that parents do not agree at what age it is acceptable to view different types of content. “

Study authors — which also include Julie Maier, a graduate student in psychology at Iowa State, Mary Rice Hasson, a communications consultant from Fairfax, VA and Beatriz Lopez de Bonetti, a market research consultant from Kansas City, KS — conclude that existing ratings do not cover all the areas parents want, are not completely accurate and, as a result, are not used regularly. Despite this, 76 percent of the parents surveyed indicated that they would like to see detailed content ratings, in addition to age-based ratings.

“This is a stake in the heart of age-based ratings,” Gentile concluded.

The findings, which will be published in the July 2011 issue of Pediatrics as “Parents’ Evaluation of Media Ratings a Decade after Television Ratings were introduced” are based on a national sample of 2,392 parents surveyed by Harris Polls and Research Now. It summarizes the results of three studies conducted in 2007, 2008 and 2009 that examined what parents really think of the current rating systems, how they use them and what improvements they would make.

When asked how they felt about the three current major ratings systems (movies, video games and television), a majority of parents surveyed indicated they regularly used movie ratings the most (48 percent), followed by video game ratings (34 percent) and TV ratings (31 percent). Unfortunately, when asked about the accuracy of the movie, television and video game ratings, only 5 to 6 percent said the ratings were always accurate.

“For age-based ratings to be valid, the people who need to use them — parents — must generally agree that they are accurate. If parents don’t agree at which age different content is acceptable, that means all age-based ratings must, by necessity, be invalid,” Gentile explains.

The authors concluded that improvements in ratings are needed to make the beneficial for parents. in order to determine the type of content parents wanted to be aware of, the authors complied a list of 36 content labels and descriptions in four general content categories (sexual, violent, offensive language and mature).

“For about half of those 36 different types of content, more than 50 percent of parents said ‘Yes, I would screen this for my kid if I knew about it'” Gentile said. “Therefore we know what content parents want to know about.”

Another finding of the study was that a majority of parents thought there should be a universal rating system for all media, including additional types of media such as Internet sites and games, music CDs and games on handheld devices. Given that media has converged in such a way that almost all types of media can now be accessed on one electronic device, Gentile believes this is a good time to re-assess how ratings are applied.

Do you agree?

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