Child's Play: With Technology, R-Rated Movies Are Just a Click Away

The movie ratings system was designed in part to prevent young children from being exposed to inappropriate content, but nowadays it's easier than ever for kids to watch R-rated movies -- and they don't even have set foot inside a movie theater.

The advancement of technology has made it simple for children to watch R-rated movies. Those are the films that have so much sex or violence -- or other adult-themed content -- that those who are 17 and under may only see them if they're with a parent or adult guardian.

VIDEO: Internet sites and on-demand channels make it easy for kids to see mature movies.Play
Are Your Kids Watching R-Rated Movies?

Children can order movies on demand through their home's cable service provider. They can order them through their video gaming system, or get them through Netflix, YouTube or Hulu.

Some of the services are free. For others, though, they need a credit card.

"The thing is, it doesn't really matter what your age range is," 13-year-old Tyler Lynch, a New Jersey resident, told "Good Morning America." "It just matters if you have the money."

No Need to Go to the Theater to See a Movie

That way is far easier than the age-old ploy of trying to sneak one's way into an R-rated film at the multiplex. For the so-called Net Generation, that gambit is old-fashioned.

"It's a lot more to deal with. People still check IDs and stuff like that," said 14-year-old Kathleen McGrath, also of New Jersey.

While some children may not think twice about ordering up an R-rated film -- and many do so with their parents' permission -- experts fear that exposing developing minds to certain content may have harmful effects.

Studies have indicated that showing adult content to children can increase violent behavior, but recent investigations have also revealed that showing R-rated movies to children can encourage them to experiment with drinking and smoking.

"Today you can sit in the privacy of your own room, or in a family room, and download something on your cell phone or over the Internet," said Jim Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, a national organization that reviews movies for age-appropriateness and which also provides advocacy and outreach.

"You can be exposed to inappropriate content without ever having to come near a movie theater," Steyer added.

Parents Fear Movies' Effects on Children

Erna Nalic, 14, says her parents are "pretty lenient," and may let her watched an R-rated movie if they watch it before she does.

Tyler says he only watches R-rated films if his parents allow it.

Asked if he ever sneaked a film in without their knowledge, he admitted that he had.

"Maybe once or twice, just, you know," he said. "Sometimes my parents are out and I order a movie rated R and I won't tell them about it. I don't think they've ever caught me."

But an occasional sneak-peek isn't what most parents worry about -- or should worry about, Steyer said. Rather, it's the constant onslaught of images from sources they often feel they can't control. On the Common Sense Media website, parents vent about easily available R rated movie previews, for example. Although theaters don't air them in PG movies, they are all over the internet, and even air routinely on some cable system's on-demand menu pages.

The solution? Do your homework, says Steyer. It will pay off.

First, know every site and device and internet toy that your child has access to and uses, Steyer said. Then, put locks on the ones you are worried about. Most On-Demand services allow passcodes to be set and you can block many internet sites.

Second, educate yourself. Really study the content.

"You actually have to go to places like or other places that really rate content and find out what's in it. You need to get down and do your homework and find out what your kids are surfing or what movies and video games their interested in. So there's a homework requirement for parents today that's really important," Steyer said.

Third, communicate. Start a dialogue with your children about all of this very early. Talk to them about what they are watching, or what they want to watch and why. Getting them in the habit of talking to you will help you understand what your child may be ready for.

Parents who worry about their children's overexposure to certain messages in the media will often air their concerns on Common Sense Media's website.

"As this 24/7 media and technology world evolves, it just adds a new layer of parenting responsibility, but the silver lining is it also adds a new layer of open dialogue and helping your kids process the kind of important lessons that they're going to need to grow up to be healthy adults," Steyer said.

Toni McGrath said that years of open dialogue with her daughter, Kathleen, led her to understand she is emotionally equipped to see certain R-rated movies.

"I think what I see as my job as a parent is to relinquish control at the right time in the right amounts, so you have to know your kid enough to know, OK, she can handle this," McGrath said.

Erna said it could be a welcome discussion.

"I think that that helps a lot that my parents are really open. Like I can talk to them about anything," Erna said. "The fact that I can and when I am watching these rated R movies it's not like I am hiding anything. It's like this is just what I can talk to my parents about. It makes it a lot easier I think, okay about doing it. "

Web Extra Tips:

The following organizations rate movies and television programming for content:

Click HERE to visit Common Sense Media's movie ratings page. Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit, provides media advocacy and outreach, and rates movies for its appropriateness for children.

Click HERE to visit the Parents Television Council. The PTC advocates responsible television programming.

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