Scared witless
Age restrictions sometimes get it spectacularly wrong.
(Getty Images)
When my kids were aged 11 and 13, I rented a movie from the DVD store called The Frighteners. Although I’ve since discovered it has an ‘R’ rating in the USA (ie, children under 17 aren’t encouraged to see it, and if they do, they must be accompanied by an adult), here in South Africa it was touted as a ‘family’ movie. It had Michael J Fox in it – what more reassurance could I want?

The Frighteners is a movie that couldn’t decide if it was a horror or a comedy, so it tried to be both. It made us all laugh a bit. It also made us hide under the sofa cushions in terror.

I was really annoyed about this. When the movie was over, not only did I have to give safe harbour to two limby, wriggly children in my own bed for the whole night, but I myself dreamt of serial killers and ghosts and numbers burnt into foreheads.

I spoke to the man at the DVD store about it the next day. He couldn’t have been more disinterested. ‘Nobody goes by the age restrictions,’ he said dismissively. ‘I’ve had parents take out Reservoir Dogs and Natural Born Killers for their 12-year-olds’ birthday parties.’


By the time my kids were about 7 or 8, I’d long since given up visually vetting what they were watching. There are only so many Barbie or Power Rangers movies an adult can sit through before derangement sets in.

So I went by the age restrictions provided by our Film and Publications Control Board – an organisation that I think does try to do its job and largely does it well. (Goodness knows how The Frighteners slipped through.)
Now that my kids are older (in their late teens) and I sometimes watch movies they’ve chosen, I’m often surprised at the age restrictions given as guidelines. Brutal offerings in which people’s heads are blown to bits and other acts of astonishing violence occur are given ‘family’ ratings – usually because they’re in the guise of send-ups or they’re animated or have sophisticated special effects.

Conversely, movies that portray nudity or sex are fiercely vetted – one tad-too-purplish love scene, and it’s only-18s-or-over, thank you very much.

Still, The Frighteners had an agreeably salutary effect on my kids. A short time after we’d seen it, they stayed over at a friend’s house, and he told me the next day how impressed he was with their self-control. ‘There was a movie on TV and it was for over-14s only,’ he said, ‘and they both excused themselves and went to bed.’

Are age restrictions helpful? Do you trust them or make up your own mind? Add your comment below.

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