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Film: The Rating Game

Violence on film is pushing the limits and exposure to violent scenes may cause serious fear among young children.

For Hollywood the PG-13 rating is the sweet spot. About half of top-grossing films have carried the label.

"PG-13 ratings exclude no one but suggest to children of all ages that the movie pushes the limits," says Ron Leone, a professor of communications at Stonehill College in Massachusetts.

Critics of the movie rating system say it is less useful than ever because ratings derive primarily from sexually oriented nudity or profanity, which will almost certainly garner any film an R-rating. Though the films deftly avoid the sexual content that are hot buttons for the Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) rating board, studies show shootings and beatings are on the rise in PG-13 films.

According to a UCLA School of Public Health study, parents who use the ratings system receive little meaningful guidance related to violent content. Researchers found 40 or 60 acts of violence would not garner an R-rating. The MPAA disagrees, stating that "rough" or "persistent" violence will result in an R.

Young children, especially, should not be exposed to violent films, say experts. "Media violence engenders intense fear in children that can last weeks or even years," says Joanne Cantor, professor emerita, University of Wisconsin, and a leading authority on the subject. Children under 6 are most frightened by monster-like images, while older children can be disturbed by realistic violence, she says.

UCLA researchers propose a numeric rating system that quantifies the severity of violence in a film.