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I’m not talking about deciding whether the movie was good or not, or how well the actors portrayed their characters. No, I’m talking about age guidance for movies.

A mother of a student in a South Canterbury school complained recently when her son was shown the movie Pitch Perfect in the classroom – a movie with an M rating.

Now, this isn’t an article about whether or not movies should be used in the classroom. Personally, I think they should if they help explain a concept or give teachers a different way to teach something. But this is an article about who decides what’s acceptable for children to watch in schools – and what children should watch outside schools.

Put it another way. All of us use bad language occasionally – especially when we forget something or drop something heavy on our feet. But bad language is banned in schools – and teachers don’t like showing clips or using writing that contains bad language – because it’s not considered appropriate. But we all use it, all hear it, watch, listen to and read things outside school with bad language in… so why not just use it in school? Why can’t teachers turn a blind eye (or deaf ear) when bad language is used in the playground?

It’s the same with movies. They are rated according to the use of bad language, or the amount of clothing the actors are wearing (or not), or if there’s examples of people taking drugs or being particularly violent towards each other. The last two I understand – they are illegal. Taking drugs is incredibly bad for you, and it’s obvious why violence shouldn’t be watched. I can kind of understand about how much skin is being shown (though students may see – and have explained to them – just as much in puberty lessons and science lessons at school).

But bad language? Isn’t it all a little bit, well, old fashioned?

Personally, I don’t like horror films. I get very scared, and I don’t really like all the blood in them. And I’m 40 years old. Just because I don’t like them, I’m not going to go around and put age restrictions on horror films, and say that only people older than 40 should watch them. Who decides if movies with bad language in them are appropriate for children of 8, or 10, or 14 or 16 years old? How and why and when does swearing become okay?

I don’t actually have any answers. But the problem is that every single one of us has watched a movie when we weren’t old enough to (according to its age rating). So, clearly, the rating system is ineffective. It doesn’t work.

What would work?




By Ben Egerton.

This is an opinion article, designed to promote critical discussion amongst your students:

Critical Thinking Challenges:


1. Why do movies have ratings?

2. Should we have age ratings on movies? If so, how could it work?

3. If you could ban a particular type of movie (like I would with horror films) what would it be and why?

4. What language is bad language? How does it get to be ‘bad’?

5. Should teachers punish students for using bad language at school?

6. I ask lots of questions in this article. I don’t have any answers. Do you?


Practical Tasks:

1. Find out who has watched films that – according to the age ratings – they’re not supposed to?

2. Does your school have a policy about using bad language? If so, find out what it is and ask your principal to explain why your school needs it.

3. Go to http://www.classificationoffice.govt.nz and find out how and why certain films are given different ratings.


Have Your Say:

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