A trip to the movies is a school holiday tradition for many families. Choosing which movie is suitable for your children should be a simple matter of following the classification guidelines. But a recent survey by the Australian Council on Children and the Media has found that eight in 10 parents believe the classification system is letting them down and needs an urgent overhaul. 

Parents have identified significant problems with insufficient and misleading ratings for movies, and also in the way marketers are allowed to target young children with products that promote unsuitable movies – often in popular fast food restaurants. Parents are left in the position of having to explain to their children why they can’t see the movie associated with the toys.

Lasting damage can be done to children’s sense of safety and wellbeing through frightening visuals seen on the big screen. Parents have told the Australian Council on Children and Media that they have had to leave PG movies within 10 minutes of it starting because of its inappropriate content.

This is obviously parental guidance in action, but parents are calling for more information from each of the categories (G, PG, M and MA15+) about what is suitable, and for greater care for the wellbeing of their children.

The M classification is of even greater concern for parents. This category indicates that the film is unsuitable for children under 15. In particular MA15+ indicates extreme violence or explicit sexual scenes. But time and time again, young children are being exposed to these movies with a parent or older brother or sister. Nearly 80 per cent of parents surveyed said that the M rating did little to protect children as it had no legal force. Parents want tougher restrictions on who can attend M-rated films and also on the way they are promoted.

Earlier this year, Australian Commonwealth Games weight lifting medalist, Deb Acason, contacted the Australian Christian Lobby to register her concern about the classification system. She was at the movies with her husband and was shocked at seeing very young children accompanying their father to watch the film Logan, rated MA15+ because of the strong violence.

There is ample, well-researched evidence on the harm that sexually explicit or violent movies have on children. The Australian Council on Children and the Media agree that anxiety from seeing inappropriate adult content can have lasting effects into adulthood.

Joanne Cantor, emeritus professor of communication science at University of Wisconsin-Madison commented on this, saying, “Very young children are also limited in their ability to distinguish fantasy from reality… Seeing or hearing about a "happy ending" doesn't help much either.”

The Australian Council on Children and the Media has produced their own age-based, "know before you go" guide. But most parents still choose movies following the Australian classification system and overwhelmingly, they are not happy.

It’s time for action.

The current categories of G, PG, M, MA15+ and R18+ do not adequately protect children from harmful content.

The ACL joins the Australian Council on Children and Media in calling on state and territory ministers and Federal Communications Minister, Mitch Fifield who are jointly responsible for classification, to review the national classification scheme and put the interests of children before the commercial interests of movie theatres. A requirement for movie theatres to ask for ID for movies rated R18+ would be a good start.

Let’s make the next holidays safer for children.