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Raising kids in a PG-13 world

Mom confession: I take my 10- and 11-year-old daughters to PG-13 movies.

It's pretty hard to avoid these days, with the recent explosion of PG-13 titles aimed at families and kids. Plus, how many times can you sit through Ramona and Beezus and Toy Store 3? (I swear I'm going to vomit if I have to don another pair of 3D glasses.)

Since the PG-13 rating is applied to such a broad range of movies, I've had to employ my own system for selecting which ones my kids can handle. Graphic sex and crassness? Out. Fuzzy, suggestive love scenes that suddenly jump to the next day? OK. For all my girls know, Charlie St. Cloud and his sailor-girl love interest this summer enjoyed a night of running and hugging through a candle-lit graveyard. I've discussed the birds & the bees with my daughters numerous times; they still don't need to see it acted out in detail on the big screen just yet.

I'm more worried about movies that desensitize young minds with pointless violence and gore. In other words, I'm somewhat comfortable if women show their breasts, not so much if someone cuts them off.

Still, family movie going can get murky and I've mistakenly let my guard down about certain PG-13 films, partly because they are so heavily marketed to viewers much younger than 13. Why wouldn't a parent assume a movie is cool for kids if commercials for it appear on the Disney channel or on the side of a Happy Meal box? Or simply because it's based on toys, such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which was basically 2 ½ hours of pointless violence, racist stereotyping and repeated use of the word p-ssy?

Some of my biggest beefs with PG-13 movies aren't the sex or violence, but what's portrayed as "cool" in them. I hated The Twilight Saga: New Moon not just because it was boring, but because it glamorized depression and made it seem like moping over a boy is hip. Bella spent about half the movie sitting in a chair, looking out the window and missing Edward. Ugh.

The danger of bringing your tween daughters to PG-13 movies you've deemed acceptable is that you have to sit through the previews. While waiting to see sweet ole Charlie St. Cloud, I silently cursed the trailer for Easy A, a PG-13 movie out later this month about a teenage girl who fakes losing her virginity.

I'm not about to go all Tipper Gore and demand yet another rating category. Parenting is so hugely personal that what I deem acceptable could horrify someone else. Kids between the ages of 9 and 12 vary so widely in maturity that some can easily handle a PG-13 while others may be traumatized. What I do want are terribly honest and specific reviews or summaries of movies that get a bit more descriptive than "intense situations" and "brief sexual encounter."

For instance, I was totally unprepared for the very graphic sex conversation between Will Ferrell and Eva Mendes, who use an elderly aunt as their intermediary for their pornographic yearnings in The Other Guys. Up until that moment, I was somewhat OK with this movie, despite a little too much profanity and buddy cop movie references that were lost on my daughters. By the end, however, my internal parent monitor was screaming "Danger, Will Robinson!" and oscillating its arms wildly to the point that I made my family sit until the theater emptied out so no one could see us leaving with children.

A friend had the same experience recently with Dinner for Schmucks. (Avoid this one unless you're prepared to discuss what a clitoris is.)

In the end, I've found that one of the things PG-13 movies are good for is discussion. If something disturbs you in a movie, the biggest favor you can do your kids is to tell them why. What makes some parents so uncomfortable with PG-13 movies isn't what their children may see. It's what they may be asked to explain.