NC Family president John Rustin talks with Bob Waliszewski, director of Focus on the Family’s Media and Culture Department and PluggedIn.com, about some of the new movies being released this summer, and how we can determine whether they are truly family-friendly.
INTRODUCTION: Bob Waliszewski is Director of Focus on the Family’s Media and Culture department that features the popular website, PluggedIn.com, where parents and children can find movie reviews and other important information on TV programs, video games, and DVDs. Bob also hosts a daily 60-second radio feature called “Plugged-In Entertainment Review” that is heard in over 900 communities nationwide. He is the author of the book, Plugged-In Parenting: How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids With Love, Not War. Summertime is upon us, which brings the release of a lot of movies that are marketed to kids and family audiences. So Bob is with us today to talk about some of the new movies being released, and how we can determine whether they are truly family-friendly. And we’ll also be talking about how we can help our kids become more discerning about the media they consume.
JOHN RUSTIN: Bob, as I mentioned when we were chatting before the program, I have used your resource countless times and am so appreciative of all that you do with Plugged-In Online, and we just thank you for that resource. As we begin our conversation today, tell us about a few of the new movies that are being released this summer that are aimed at family or youth audiences, and in general, would you say this is a good summer for family-friendly movies or not?
BOB WALISZEWSKI: It used to be that they’d kick off the movie season for the summer at Memorial Day weekend. Well, the last three to four years, they keep backing that up until the first weekend in May. We had X-Men, which did come out Memorial Day weekend, and Alice Through the Looking Glass, Warcraft, Finding Dory, Independence Day, The Legend of Tarzan, The BFG, The Secret Life of Pets, Ghostbusters, Star Trek Beyond, Suicide Squad, and that kind of wraps up the summer as far as the movies that are geared toward kids. Now, John, we’ve seen some of these, but we’ve not seen all of these. Typically, we see about 95 percent of the films in advance of release. Every once in a while, they don’t screen in advance, which usually means they’ve got a bomb on their hands, and we’re going to have some hits, we’re going to have some misses, and we’re going to have some that seem to understand the family audiences, and I guarantee you there’s going to be a bunch that just don’t have a clue.
JOHN RUSTIN: I know that the secular press dubbed 2014 as “Year of the Bible” because of the number of Bible-based or spiritual movies that were released then. But it looks like to me this year is shaping up to be another similar year to that. What are your thoughts about that—would you agree with the assessment that 2016 may be another, “Year of the Bible?”
BOB WALISZEWSKI: This year, my goodness, it’s been more than one [faith-based movie] month, and something I have been hoping for and dreaming for and praying for, for a long time. We kicked off January with a movie called The Masked Saint, and we had a movie called Kate’s No More, and we had Risen, which came out, by the way, on DVD for those who are looking for a film that might be good for the family. We had The Young Messiah come out in March; we had Miracles from Heaven came out in March; then on April Fools’ Day, God’s Not Dead 2. And we have a new Ben Hur remake that Mark and Roma Downey are been working on, which I get to see very soon, and I’m looking forward to that. So, this year when it’s already more than one a month, and we have a few more still in the works, it definitely is shaping up to be another, “Year of the Bible,” depending on how you are counting. And I think that’s a good thing because I’m looking for the day when families can go to the movie theater anytime they want to without ever looking at the paper, without ever going online to see what’s playing, and when they get to the theater look at the marquee, and go, I know one of those is a faith-based film because there’s always one playing at this theater, and they look up and go, “Oh yeah that one! Honey that’s the one we’re going to.” We’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer, it seems, every year.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s exciting! Bob, I know when we look at movies that are heavily marketed to families and children, those that are often rated PG, for example, some of these are not always suitable for younger audiences. We talk often on this program about the content and the rating systems that are used to rate movies and broadcast television. And I know you’ve recommended that parents not rely too heavily on the movie rating system. Talk about that if you would.
BOB WALISZEWSKI: John, this is a great place to insert a shameless plug for Plugged-In because really I do believe exactly what you just said, that the ratings aren’t trustworthy, and if they’re not trustworthy, parents need some kind of tool. We’re not the only show in town. I like Screen It, for instance, but they charge a fee to access their reviews, but they’re pretty conservative, pretty reliable, and so there are a few other places out there. But because of generous donors, Focus on the Family made a decision years ago to say we’re going to do our reviews for absolutely free, that we believe in the family, we want to strengthen the family in this area of media discernment, so we’re not going to charge. And people give generously because of it, and we’re very, very grateful. But concerning the ratings, here’s what’s happened: the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America, made up of a mysterious group (no one posts their names per se) that shows up in a room, watches these films, and then gives them what they think is a rating, they do it democratically, and then they come away with “G” or “PG” or “PG-13” or “R”, or “NC-17,” or what used to be the “X;” those are the ratings. Maybe even 10 years ago, it was a bit trustworthy, but what’s happened, especially seven or eight years ago, is movies that 10 years ago the MPAA would have called an “R” rated film, they’re now calling “PG-13.” Well, what is does that exactly mean? That means that according to the MPAA, if a child is 12 years and 365, oh, now we don’t call them a 12-year-old, (laugh), now they’re a teenager, a 13-year-old that they should be able to see the likes of, and fill in the blanks: Land of the Lost, Love Grew, Make the Spartans, Mr. Woodcock, I Now Pronounce you Chuck and Larry, Perks of Being a Wallflower, Rock of Ages, The Backup Plan, The Internship, The Other Guy, Think Like a Man, etc… I mean, those are just several titles that come to mind that are rated by the MPAA as acceptable for your [13 year-old]. And I’d say, wait a minute, this should be so R-rated that I wouldn’t even want my mother to see it! I mean she would blush, I would blush—this is nasty stuff! So, it is completely unreliable. Every once in a while, they get it right, but you can’t rely on something that every once in a while gets it right. You have to be able to rely on it 99.9 percent of the time. And I think they get it right more like 15 percent of the time, but the other 85 percent, they don’t get right.
JOHN RUSTIN: I’d have to agree with you, and as the parent of two teenagers, I have utilized your resource many times, and it’s important because the details of language that’s used, the graphic nature, potential violence, sexual innuendo, all those sorts of things are really important for discerning parents to understand. And speaking of teenagers Bob, I know sometimes even my children have said, “Mom, Dad, this movie’s rated PG or PG-13 and all of my friends are going to see it. Why can’t I go?” What advice to do you have for parents who are facing that situation, or issues over movies or other forms of media entertainment for that matter, in discussions with older children? What is the best way to handle these kinds of disputes that helps teens understand our motivation for saying “No,” at times, and helping them learn the process of being discerning about the types of movies and other programing that they view?
BOB WALISZEWSKI: That’s such a great question, John, and my answer may sound a little simplistic, and I think maybe some of our listeners may be tempted to roll their eyes and say “Okay, Bob, that’s so obvious,” and it may be, but have you done it? Here’s my advice: We talk about having the “sex talk” with our kids, and we talk about having the “drug talk” with our kids, but have we had a “media talk” with our kids? And I would recommend not just a one-time shot—we got it out of the way, good, okay, our kids know where our boundaries are and from now on we never have to mention it again. I like to think probably once a quarter, at least twice a year, that we sit our kids down at the dinner table, we have a nice meal, and afterwards, especially in a two-parent home, dad kicks back, and he leads the conversation, and he says: “Hey guys, we’re going to have a discussion. I just want to make sure we’re all on the same page here, because as for me and my household, we’re going serve the Lord in this area, and that’s the area of media discernment. In this house, we want to honor the Lord Jesus Christ when it comes to our entertainment choices. And guys, it’s a tough world out there, sometimes it’s hard to make those decisions, but we’re going to be doing this as a family. And as your father I’m going to lead the way, and I’m not going to compromise, and here’s where our standards are, and here’s what we’re going to allow, and here’s what we’re not going to allow. And it doesn’t matter what every single other family at church seems to be doing, that’s not our standard. We want to glorify Christ.”
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great answer and I love what you said, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord,” but that starts with “Me.” So this standard applies to not only what parents allow their children to see, but I assume it also applies to what parents watch at home themselves?
BOB WALISZEWSKI: Yes, because we have some listeners, I know, because it’s unfortunately a little too frequent, where the parents cut some corners themselves with some racy stuff. You know, [we say] “Okay, we’ve got a bedroom TV and the kids are asleep, and we’re going to push the boundaries, and it’s kind of nasty, but hey we’re going to watch it in the bedroom, and it’s just the two of us, and whatever.” I tell you, your kids are going to find out, somehow. Don’t ask me how, but I promise you, if you’re not modeling it, your kids will know that some day. They may not know when they’re three and when they’re four, but sometime around, age 10, 11, or 12, they’re going to know, and they’re going to find out that you’re not modeling it. And that hypocrisy in the home, it just is devastating for a young person. “They told me not to watch MTV, but look what they’re watching!” No. So we’ve got to be parents that model it. We believe in it, we practice it, we model it, we want our kids to model it; they never see any shortcuts in our home that way, and when they leave our home, they’re not those kind of kids that are saying, “You just wait till I go off to college, I’m going to watch what I want to watch and I’m going to listen to what I want!” If their hearts are set on rebellion, then they can’t wait to get out. But if they have watched it be modeled by their parents over and over again, and they’ve had healthy boundaries discussed as a family, and they know where those boundaries are, set by loving parents who aren’t legalistic, but who are just loving and have good boundaries, then they’re going to go for it.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s a great admonition for our listeners, and I just want to encourage all of our listeners to take advantage of this resource. But unfortunately Bob we’re just about out of time for this week. Before we leave, I do want to give you an opportunity to share your website with our listeners. Where can they can to go find this valuable information about movies, DVD reviews, video games, and other things of that nature?
BOB WALISZEWSKI: Two places, PluggedIn.com is our website, and it’s awfully easy to get there. But since most of us have smartphones these days, we have an iPhone app, and we have an Android app, which both have Plugged-In. Basically, [that puts] our reviews in the palm of your hand.
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