Not just child's play: Deciding what movies kids should watch depends on their maturity, content of film

FARGO -- Anders Lien loved "Deadpool," but the 6-year-old didn't care for the sadness in Disney movie "The Little Mermaid." Becca Henninger's two teenage daughters went to "Deadpool," which posted the biggest opening for an R-rated movie yet with...

A scene from "Deadpool." Photo credit: 20th Century Fox
A scene from "Deadpool." Photo credit: 20th Century Fox

FARGO -- Anders Lien loved "Deadpool," but the 6-year-old didn't care for the sadness in Disney movie "The Little Mermaid."

Becca Henninger's two teenage daughters went to "Deadpool," which posted the biggest opening for an R-rated movie yet with $132 million last month.

When Amy Fish saw the hit Ryan Reynolds movie in Detroit Lakes, Minn., she was surprised to find younger kids in the theater--the film's marketing told parents to not bring kids to this origin story of the foul-mouthed anti-hero that features nudity and sexual jokes.

"It made me uncomfortable as an adult and a parent and a teacher to be laughing at that humor and then be looking across the aisle and seeing children," Fish said.

While parents have long debated which movies are appropriate for their families, that conversation ramped up with "Deadpool"--and the next wave of comic book movies is on the way, including "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice," which hits theaters Friday, March 25.


Not just ratings

Kids and adults are constantly exposed to input from their surroundings, according to Joni Medenwald, clinical supervisor at The Village Family Service Center, and that input can have both a positive and negative influence.

"When a child or teen is exposed to something that they are not cognitively able to process appropriately, they will make their own interpretations," she said. "Often these interpretations lead to nightmares, fears and increased worries."

But parents don't have to rely solely on film or TV ratings, which Medenwald said are a guideline more than a rule. Not all 13-year-olds will be ready for every PG-13 movie, for example.

"You know your child better than anyone, and after you do your part in researching the movie, reading the reviews and looking into the reasoning behind the age rating given, then you can make an informed decision," she said.

Betsy Bozdech credited 20th Century Fox, the studio behind "Deadpool," for telling parents the film was not meant for young children.

"Sometimes you feel like it's a bait-and-switch in the other direction, and I feel like in this case, they really tried hard to say, 'Don't do it,' " said Bozdech, an executive editor of reviews and ratings with Common Sense Media, a group that aims to help parents and others make informed decisions about the content kids consume.


For example, 2008 Batman film "The Dark Knight" was a PG-13 movie marketed to teens that featured a violent storyline that some parents thought merited an R-rating.

The recent success of "Deadpool" could prompt studios to go after more R-rated comic book movies, according to Bozdech.

"In Hollywood, as soon as you succeed, you're going to get a bunch of copycats no matter what you're doing," she said.

There's already talk of an R-rating for "Wolverine 3," and "Batman v Superman" is rumored to get an R-rated director's cut when it's released on home video.

Making the rules

Nick and Mandy Korth use ratings as a guide when deciding about films for their 10-year-old son and two daughters, ages 12 and 4. An R rating probably won't work, Nick Korth said, and a PG-13 movie still might be too much.

Korth said he tries to steer their viewing habits to better programming. Rather than zone out with "SpongeBob SquarePants," for example, he might get the family to learn something with an episode of "MythBusters."


But Korth remains open about the rules, and said the decision is up to each parent.

"I really try my best to really teach them that these are movies and what does that mean, like, after this scene they're yelling 'Cut!' and they're going to their trailer and they're grabbing a sandwich," he said. "It's not real. But especially if you haven't seen it yet, it's hard to be able to gauge that before you go in."

Henninger tends to have an open mind about what her daughters watch. Her youngest, now 14, hid behind the couch to watch R-rated zombie movie "Land of the Dead" when she was 6. When Henninger noticed, she decided her daughter was ready for it.

"She has since become my little horror fan," she said.

Over the years, her kids decided on their own when a movie was too much. For Henninger, it's a matter of letting her daughters be involved.

"I think movies do in a way kind of parallel reality, and I think if you're letting your 13-year-old only watch G- and PG-rated movies, yeah, absolutely, you're shielding your child from the outside world," she said.

Erica Lien's 6-year-old son wanted to see "Deadpool" because he likes action movies, she said. She took him and said he's heard things "10 times worse" than any line from that movie because he grew up around salty language on military bases.

Her 8-year-old daughter, meanwhile, refuses to watch Disney movie "Frozen" because she doesn't like when Elsa is sad, though she doesn't mind coloring in the living room while her mom watches gory zombie show "The Walking Dead."

Lien said she's not alone in letting her kids help figure out what they're ready to watch, even something R-rated like "Deadpool."

"There's a lot of parents that would rent the movie and let their child that young be in the room while it's playing," she said. "I think a lot would not take them to the movie theater for fear of judgment."

Related Topics: MOVIES
Opinion by Ryan Johnson
Ryan Johnson is the Features Editor for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. Since joining The Forum's staff in 2012, he has also reported on several beats, including higher education, business and features. Readers can reach him at 218-791-9610 or
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