First off, I'm not a fan of them as a hard and fast rule. As they said in Pirates of the Caribbean (PG-13 for those paying attention): "They're more like guidelines." Or at least they should be. "14 and up" should never be taken as "appropriate for everyone over 14" or "inappropriate for anyone under 14." It's really just a heads up that it has some content that the average 14 year-old will be equipped to handle whereas younger readers might not. Simple, right?
For those of you who haven't seen The Avengers (also PG-13), there's an exchange that goes like this (from IMDB):
BRUCE BANNER: I don't think we should be focusing on Loki. That guy's brain is a bag full of cats. You can smell crazy on him.
THOR: Have a care how you speak. Loki is beyond reason, but he is of Asgard. And he is my brother.
BLACK WIDOW: He killed eighty people in two days.
THOR: He's adopted.
The delivery of the line is spot-on and, in the theater, the bit gets a lot of laughs. But apparently someone has started a petition against Marvel over the line. If you read the article linked, one parent said:
(his daughter, who is adopted, was not old enough to discern the humor behind the line.)
“I almost laughed, too; the line is well played. But the laughter stuck in my throat when all of the joke’s implications crashed down on me. My daughter never got for a second that it was supposed to be a joke.
“‘Are people laughing because they think adopted kids are bad? Am I bad?’”
Now, I'm a really lenient parent as far as ratings go, but we'll get to that in a minute. The problem is, the movie is PG-13, which for those who have ever paid attention means "Parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13." (From MPAA) That means, you take your younger kids at your own risk. You, as the parent, have decided it's okay for them to see. The production company, director, etc. is not responsible for your child. Now, maybe these parents who are up in arms have kids over 13 who were traumatized by that line, but again, the parent is responsible for knowing their child and what that kid can handle.
As for my children, we don't shelter them from much, but I know exactly what buttons not to push with them. My son gets very upset over extremely realistic violence against children. Pretty much anything else goes for him. I try to avoid "disturbing images" because I can see those inducing nightmares, and I really just don't want to deal with that. My daughter... doesn't really seem disturbed by much of anything. I make a point of knowing my children and what they're sensitive to. Considering the violence (including brother-on-adopted-brother, man-on-woman, etc) included in the film, a line that took all of two seconds to utter should not be the area of most concern. If your child is not old enough to get the joke, and is not old enough to understand when you explain it, then your child is not old enough to be at a PG-13 film. My daughter is seven. She got the joke. I can't imagine how old the child in question is.
The same goes for books. My son (10 1/2) is out-growing middle grade fiction, and we are very carefully dipping his toes into YA. It's a fine line of balancing his interests with the appropriateness of content, but we're walking the tightrope together. Hunger Games, yes. Twilight, no. While he enjoyed Zombie Tag, I won't let him read any of Hannah Moskowitz's other books yet. Will he, at some point, read something he's not ready for? Sure. It's called growing up. And we'll deal with it when it happens. In the meantime, I love the age recommendations on YA books. Do I always listen to them? No. But if it says "12 and up," I don't even question giving it to him. "14 and up," I'm more cautious. That's my job as a parent, and I thank the movie and publishing industry for making it easier on me.
What are your thoughts? With ratings there, whose responsibility is it to police content before letting kids get their hands on it?