‘These are not PG-13 times’ — The Case for a PG-16 Movie Rating

Aug. 21, 2019 / By

In the span of a century, we have gone from theatre and books to movies and T.V., finding new ways to explore age-old themes of love and loss. Perhaps, it’s to escape the absurdities of day-to-day life via the captivating spectacle of film or words on a page. More than all, entertainment helps us define the bedrock foundation of who we are and our purpose in life.


Films provide a way for youth to experience life as an adult, to live through what-if-scenarios and mature as a result. Although this exists in theory, what we’ve seen in practice is that giving kids the privilege to watch more mature content has been blocked by censorship and, in result, stunts teen growth.  


For the past 90 years, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) has held firm control over the film industry and Hollywood. Although the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) regulates content control in the United States, the MPAA has regulated the industry away from government oversight (yes, it’s privately-owned).


The MPAA website states that their purpose is to foster creativity and help create new stories that “define us and shape our world.” However, they have fostered creative and social stagnation throughout the industry due to their rating board. The PG-13 rating limits the use of constant swearing, the presence of drugs, and mature themes of sex and violence (for some reason, it also weighs more against depictions of gay and lesbian sex than scenes of heterosexual sex).


In the end, youth maturity and insight into a harsher part of worldly life is hindered due to obscure regulations.

Having a new PG-16 rating that introduces 16 year olds to these themes can help solve a lot of these issues. Yes, it’d be one year difference in age from a rated R film, but being 16 is a crucial point in the growth of adolescence. It is the point where our mental and physical bodies begin to peak and mature into adulthood.


The average age teens have sex is 17 according to the Kinsey Institute, while 70% of students have tried alcohol by their senior year and half have tried drugs, as stated by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Subject matter like health, sex and sexuality should be topics that teens in high school be made aware of — before they start. 

Deregulating the MPAA — just a bit — doesn’t mean accessing ultra-violent movies like Fight Club or Friday The 13th but allows films like The King’s Speech and Shawshank Redemption to be analyzed. By allowing a PG-16 rating, movies relating to meaningful narratives about real world or historical violence, sex and social norms can reach teens that are still grasping their morales, their sexuality, and their human identity.


This can include themes that already concern teens in real life: peer pressure in high school, parental abuse at-home, temptations to all the vices we see in streets and schools. 


Equally important is the ability for creatives not to sugarcoat issues such as high school bullying, allowing teens to be aware of the physical abuse that victims experience and its mental health effects on others.


Sometimes, PSAs just don’t do the trick. Instead, captivating works of fiction can better give audiences the vicarious feeling of dread that their on-screen protagonist is suffering from.


Inevitably, such films can explore the powers of the human condition to overcome and triumph.


A PG-16 rating allows artists more creative freedom, easing the loss of sales or self-censorship when deciding whether to include a high-impact scene in a film. Teenagers should know about the realities of growing up, the realities of dating, and they should know about real-life problems that one day they will indeed face.


The teen struggle is always real and especially as times change, life’s lessons become more obscure for the many. By prioritizing teenagers’ learning over censorship, we can be better equipped to confront the real world. After all, youth are not living in PG-13 times.

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Ceferino Martirez

Ceferino Martirez is a photojournalist with VoiceWaves. He is a history and history education major at CSULB who joined VoiceWaves in 2018. Martirez’s work focuses on street photography and protest coverage. His work with VoiceWaves has focused on using his photography to capture community voices on issues like housing, labor, and youth rights.