Movie theater

How do you know when your teen is ready to watch his or her first R-rated movie? The truth is, you don’t always know. There are a lot of aspects to consider.

Recently, my oldest daughter, Abbey – who is nearly 15 years old – asked if she could go see an R-rated movie. My first reaction was "no." Usually, there is more sexual content involved than someone her age needs to be exposed to. But then I decided to take a different approach. She is getting older, and it’s possible that it’s about time I consider allowing her a little more freedom.

Then again, maybe not; but I’ll never know if I don’t explore the possibility.

As a parent, you may not want to shelter your child forever, but sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s OK to loosen the reins a little bit. Personally, I believe it is important to have a thorough understanding of what your child is asking and whether or not it’s appropriate for his or her current age and maturity level. When making the decision, I considered the following.

1. Do your research. Whether it’s just to make you feel better or to address some real concerns, conducting a personal review of the film may make your decision less stressful. Two helpful sites are Common Sense Media and Film Ratings. Dedicated to keeping families informed about ratings and content, these sites provide detailed reviews and rating classification information. On either site, you can search the name of the movie and read about violence, sex and other adult themes said movie might have. The Film Ratings website outlines the various movies ratings, the process used to assign a rating and the attributes that qualify a film for a certain rating. Common Sense, on the other hand, goes an additional step by offering user ratings and reviews for hundreds of movies, games, books, websites and more.

2. Your child's maturity level. In my opinion, this is just as important as the rating itself. Though your child may be of an age where seeing such a film isn’t uncommon, his or her maturity should also be a contributing factor to your decision. All children mature at different rates, and may differ in their ability to comprehend or dissect the content found in R-rated movies. Or course, it is ultimately up to the parent – after all, you know your child best – to determine appropriate content and what his or her child is capable of understanding. 

3. Parent-child relationship. After reviewing the film my daughter wants to see, we had a talk about it. It wasn’t comfortable — as these types of conversations so rarely are — but I wasn’t trying to make her comfortable. I was judging her reaction to the conversation. If she wasn’t able to hold an adult conversation about the movie, then it isn’t likely she would be able to handle an adult-themed film either.

4. The group your child is going to the movie with. I believe the crowd with whom your child is seeing the movie should also be considered. It may factor into the motivation for why your child wants to see it in the first place. In my situation, my daughter would be going with a couple of friends, as well as one of the friend's mom. Not that we, as parents, never make errors in judgement, but I feel better knowing there will be a guardian present, rather than just an older brother or sister. In this type of situation, siblings may not make the best role models. At least with a parent, I can discuss my own concerns or movie content.

After considering all these points, and watching the trailer myself, I've decided that my daughter exhibits enough maturity to handle her first R-rated movie. It wasn't an easy decision to make, and I'm sure when faced with a similar situation with her sister one day – she's 12 – I'll take all the same points into consideration.

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Amanda Smith, a working mom of two children, writes weekly for momaha.com. Read more from Amanda »

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