One of the constant debates we have in our household is, I think, one of the debates constantly had in every household with children – is my child old enough to watch a certain television show/movie or play a certain game.

In our house the question is posed from multiple angles – my daughter (9) asking if she’s allowed to watch something; me asking my wife if my daughter, or my son (4), is allowed to watch something; my wife asking the same question of me; and my son asking as well. In other words, we all have questions at one time or another if something is appropriate, and we all look for opinions on the subject.

As the number of media choices continually expands, the number of questions only grows, and each question has to be tackled on a case-by-case basis.

We are aided in our decision-making process by TV ratings, movie ratings, and game ratings, but they’re not the ultimate decider. My daughter has attended PG-13 movies. Some people say that this is wrong because she’s not 13. Of course, what PG-13 actually means is “some material may be inappropriate for children under 13,” not that kids under 13 aren’t allowed (and the implication being guidance is not required for those over). Essentially, it’s asking parents to be aware and look into the material they’re showing their child which is always prudent.

Beyond that, different families handle things differently. People have different levels of horror to the utterance various curse words and ascribe different levels of bad to the use of each. Some would say that one comment about sex should instantly put something into the PG-13 category, or that one mention of death should.

Not just every family is different either, every child within every family is different. One child at nine years of age in a family may be better able to process something than another child when they hit that age simply due to who they are and a slightly varied set of life experiences.

To help then make these decisions there are other sources of information beyond just ratings. There are sites like Common Sense Media, which attempts to put appropriate ages on films, but do more than just that. They offer greater insight as to why the ages are correct for a film. Just what sorts of messages the film offers and specific levels of potentially questionable (for certain age groups) content.

Even that though isn’t a full answer, just another aide along the way to arriving at an answer. We are all going to make mistakes trying to assess whether someone is ready to watch a movie.

This comes up again in our house right now because in a few weeks there’s a screening of “Jurassic Park” at a local theater. It is PG-13, Common Sense Media says 12 is appropriate. But, as I hope is clear, that isn’t enough of an answer. Common Sense also says 13 for “The Avengers,” “Age of Ultron, and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier.” My daughter watched all of those without issue as well as all the “Harry Potter” movies, and at least the last two of those are listed as appropriate for 12 year-olds on Common Sense.

On the other side of things – it’s “Jurassic Park” and there’s more than one scene there of dino-induced mayhem. People of all ages are regularly put into danger in that movie and the raptors look pretty realistic. Plus, there’s that T-Rex scene. There are reasons to be concerned.

One idea floated in our house was for my daughter to watch the movie on DVD first before seeing it on the big screen – that way she’d know where the scares are going to be and what they are. Without a doubt, that would lessen the impact of the chills, but it would also lessen the impact of the magic. That moment when we first see the dinosaurs is wondrous and deserves the biggest screen possible. To see it at home is fine, but it’s not the same, no matter how big one’s TV.

And so, here is where we reach our conclusion, or, more accurately, our lack thereof. There is no “right” answer, at least not one that can be correctly assessed as such without having more information than it’s possible to have.

If my daughter goes to the movie and isn’t too scared to go to bed that night, we made the right decision by letting her go. If she doesn’t go to the movie but would have been too scared to go to bed that night then we made the right decision by not letting her go. We just can’t know which way is the right way though before we decide.

Whatever happens though, you can certainly expect a follow-up piece in the coming weeks.

photo credit: Universal Studios Home Entertainment