How do I find good media for my kids?

I had an internship while I was going to law school in Portland, Oregon. I remember talking to my supervisor right before one of the last Harry Potter movies came out in theaters. I asked him if he was going to take his kids, and he told me no. I was a little surprised because Harry Potter was huge.  It was what all everyone was watching and talking about. It was life! He explained that the movie was rated PG-13 and would be too scary for his young kids.

I’ve thought about that experience a lot as I’ve tried to make good choices about the media I expose my kids to. There are literally thousands of apps, tv shows, and movies available for kids of all ages. This makes it hard for parents like me to know which apps are the best ones. Which apps are going to keep my kid quiet on a long drive or on a flight? Which apps aren’t going to turn his brain to mush? Will the apps that advertise themselves as educational actually teach my kids something? Or are the apps no better for their brains than fruit-flavored gum is for their bodies? Can I just rely on movie ratings to make a determination about which movies my family will watch? Is a tv show that advertises itself as educational actually going to teach my son anything?

Recently, I wrote a post about the AAP’s new guidelines about screen time for kids. I talked about the resources that the AAP offered to help parents plan out their kids’ screen time. There was a guide to making a media plan and a calculator to help parents prioritize their kids’ time.

The AAP linked to commonsensemedia.org in their media plan template. This website reviews apps, movies, tv shows, books, and almost any other kind of media available that your kids might consume. It provides subject summaries for the different media. It also designates which age group the media is best suited for.

The website receives support from several different well-known foundations, including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. They claim that they don’t get any money from the products they review and that, because of this, they provide totally independent reviews. They say that this allows them to give you unbiased information about all the apps, tv shows and movies out there.

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Their “About” page provides information on what goes into their ratings and how they break them down by age group. The ratings they use are helpful. Rather than just focusing on the negative side of things, like violence, sex, and language, they also focus on positive things. They give a rating for a movie or an app based on the positive message they portray or the positive role models they include. These can be great indicators if you’re looking for something that isn’t just entertaining but also uplifting for your kids. One unique negative indicator that they use is consumerism. I have not seen a similar indicator on other sites.

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The age groups are relatively short periods of time, and the year designation makes it easy to know who they are talking about. They don’t break it up into “toddler” and “teen,” and leave you wondering if they’re talking about an older, younger, or middle-aged teen or toddler. Instead, they use two to three year increments so that you have a better idea of whether or not your child fits into their age designation.

Here’s an example of their rating system in action. Doctor Strange is a Marvel movie that recently came out. Commonsensemedia.org gave it a 12+ age designation. They go through the seven categories listed above with an explanation of their ranking. For example, they give language a 3 out of 5 because there are two uses of a**hole, a use of *ss, a use of h*ll, and a possible use of sh*t.

Probably one of the coolest aspects of the site is that they have a section with discussion topics for families. They give ideas on how to talk about the Doctor Strange’s character progression from arrogant and selfish to humble and perseverant.

This is a great site to help you weed through the thousands of choices of apps, tv shows and movies available for your family to use and watch. What do you use to make sure your family is watching great movies and tv shows? How do you make sure that the apps your kids use are the best ones?

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