Are You Ratings Ready? Video Game Edition by Mike Nappa

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Your preteen wants to play a new video game at a friend’s house—but is that game appropriate for your child? How will you know? Here’s how you can find out:


How are Video Games Rated for Content?

Most video games are given a third-party rating by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). This rating is intended to provide “objective information” to help parents make informed choices about the games their kids play.

An ESRB rating has three parts:

  1. An age-appropriate category designation,
  2. Content descriptors, and
  3. Information about the “interactive elements” of a game, for instance, whether or not a game shares a user’s location or other personal information.


What are the Basic Ratings Categories?

  • EC – Early Childhood. No objectionable content, and a game that was created specifically for young children.
  • Everyone. Fun for the whole family. Cartoon-style violence at best, and generally no profanity or suggestive themes included.
  • Everyone 10+. Generally appropriate for preteens and older. May contain mild violence or mild language, but overall very tame.
  • Teen. This is the gaming equivalent of a PG-13 movie rating. According to ESRB, a game with this rating “May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.”
  • Mature. A video game comparable to an R-rated film. A game with this rating is likely to include some combination of graphic violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and strong profanity.
  • Adults Only. Consider this the NC-17 rating of video games. ESRB describes these games this way, “May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content and/or gambling with real currency.”


Where Can I Find More?

A detailed explanation of the ESRB rating system, including specific content descriptors and interactive element designations is online at:

Mike Nappa is an author of more than 50 books. He is also the founder of Nappaland Literary Agency and a former book acquisitions editor. He is featured each month in ParentLife magazine and in Trends and Truth Online on the ParentLife blog.

Captain Underpants Speaks to Parents! An Interview with Dav Pilkey {Trends and Truth Online with Mike Nappa}


Dav Pilkey is the creator of the New York Times bestselling kids’ series, Captain Underpants. Recently, he took a little time away from his Captainly duties to answer a few questions for ParentLife readers:

T&TO: What should every parent know about Captain Underpants?

Pilkey: I purposely designed each [Captain Underpants] book so they would not only be fun to read, they’d be easy to read. Each story has short chapters and pictures on every page, but the humor is aimed squarely at third and fourth graders (and above). My goal was to present kids with a series that would give even the most reluctant readers a feeling of success.

T&TO: What makes writing Captain Underpants worthwhile for you?

Pilkey: I feel very motivated by all of the positive feedback I get from parents and teachers and librarians. They tell similar stories, always about a kid who refused to read until they were introduced to Captain Underpants—then everything changed…I just heard from a grandmother the other day who had to yell at her granddaughter to STOP reading (apparently it was way past her bedtime, and she was under the covers with a flashlight).

T&TO: According to ALA, Captain Underpants books are among the “most-challenged” books by parents and librarians. Why?

Pilkey: The reason the Captain Underpants books have been challenged by a small handful of “concerned grown-ups” is usually because of the humor. These books do tend to involve villainous toilets and booger monsters and things like that. Of course, that’s part of the appeal for most kids, but I understand that there are some grown-ups out there who are not amused by such things.

One angry lady in California complained to her local newspaper that certain characters in my books had engaged in name-calling and had “no moral value.” Oddly, she was referring to the villains. I remember thinking, “Aren’t bad guys supposed to behave badly?”

I actually think kids are smart enough to get the point of these silly books of mine. They realize that the bad guys are evil and the heroes are loyal, brave, and good-hearted. Kids totally get it, and fortunately most adults do too.

T&TO: Any last thoughts for our readers?

Pilkey: Every month I get hundreds of original hand-drawn comic book adventures written and illustrated by kids all over the world. Just last week I got two 16-page full color comics written and illustrated by a twelve-year-old from Australia. Earlier this year, I got some comics from a kid in Thailand. I couldn’t read them, but the illustrations were beautiful.

The amazing thing to me is that these comic books aren’t assignments. Nobody forced those kids to make an original comic book. These are things that kids have decided to do on their own—for fun!

It’s going to be exciting to see what happens when these kids grow up!

Mike Nappa is an author of more than 50 books. He is also the founder of Nappaland Literary Agency and a former book acquisitions editor. He is featured each month in ParentLife magazine and in Trends and Truth Online on the ParentLife blog.

Trends & Truth Online with Mika Nappa: Talking The Hobbit with Dr. Timothy Paul Jones


Dr. Timothy Paul Jones is a distinguished theologian, a professor at The Southern Baptist Seminary, and editor of the Journal of Discipleship and Family Ministry. Oh, he’s also a pop culture savant and expert on J.R.R. Tolkien. We recently got him talking about The Hobbit movie―care to listen in?

T&TO: What should every parent know about The Hobbit?

Jones: The Hobbit will span three films: An Unexpected Journey (2012), The Desolation of Smaug (2013), and There and Back Again (2014). The films are based on a book from J.R.R. Tolkien. Tolkien wrote the book for children, although the book’s readership has long since transcended any age limitation.

Even though The Hobbit will hit theaters a decade after The Lord of the Rings films, this reversed order wasn’t the case when it comes to the books. The first version of The Hobbit book was published in 1937, several years prior to the first installment of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

If The Hobbit films follow Tolkien’s text, there will be a lot of wizardry and a bit of burglary, a couple of quite violent conflicts, and plenty of puffing on pipe-weed. The Hobbit films are likely to provide foundations for fruitful family discussions about magic and morals, wealth and war, and more.


T&TO: The Hobbit is overwhelmingly favored by Christian groups, but some parents warn that kind of blanket endorsement is potentially harmful. Your thoughts?

Jones: Part of this favor in the Christian community stems from the fact that J.R.R. Tolkien’s writings originated within a Christian worldview. In fact, Tolkien took the very term “Middle-earth” from an Old English poem about Christ’s ascension! Tolkien was a devout Roman Catholic, and God used Tolkien to bring C.S. Lewis to faith in Jesus Christ.

When asked about the religious perspective of The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien described the trilogy as “a fundamentally religious and Catholic work, unconsciously so at first, but consciously in the revision. That is why I have not put in, or have cut out, practically all references to anything like ‘religion,’ to cults or practices, in the Imaginary world. For the religious element is absorbed into the story and the symbolism.”

I would suggest that this is no less true of The Hobbit. Although the work is certainly no allegory—Tolkien despised allegories—the characters are deeply symbolic, representing humanity’s deep sense of exile as well as our struggle not to center our lives on the pursuit of earthly wealth or power.

Despite the origins of The Hobbit in a Christian worldview, I would agree that a blanket endorsement is undeserved—and I’d say the same about any other work of popular art and culture. Here’s why: Such endorsements can unintentionally provide parents with a false comfort, the idea that they can place this book or movie or digital download in front of their children without having to engage in critique or conversation about it.

Visit Dr. Jones online at:

Will you and/or your kids go see The Hobbit movie? It releases December 14th, this Friday.

Should Smoking Be Rated R? Trends & Truth Online with Mike Nappa



If James Sargent, M.D., of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, had his way, cigarette smoking in any movie would automatically earn an “R” rating. Same for films with cigars, pipes, and the like. Here’s why:

When young kids see people smoking onscreen, that becomes something of a “product placement” advertisement that’s repeated and reinforced through frequent viewings—and which might influence kids’ attitudes toward the habit. Dr. Sargent and his colleagues conducted a study of 6522 preteens and early teens, trying to measure scientifically the impact smoking in movies may or may not have on children. According to, Sargent’s research suggests that, “Kids 10 to 14 years old were 49 percent more likely to have tried a cigarette for every 500 they saw smoked on the screen in PG-13 movies.”

“It is the movie smoking that prompts adolescents to smoke,” Sargent’s team emphasized in their report, “not other characteristics of R-rated movies or adolescents drawn to them.”

In response to these findings, the study’s originators have a simple recommendation: Give all movie smoking an “R” rating.

The thinking is that an “R” rating would make it harder for preteens and young teens to see repeated product placement of cigarettes in movies. In the researchers’ opinion, that would reduce underage smoking by at least 18%—a significant number in today’s American society.

According to the Surgeon General’s office, the smoking habit almost always begins in adolescence. About 2400 youth and young adults become regular smokers each day, with about 90% trying their first cigarette before the age of 18. What’s more, cigarette-sized cigars are so popular in youth culture today that one in five high school males smoke cigars.

A strategy that would help postpone the onset of adolescent smoking would drastically reduce adult smoking (and smoking-related illnesses) in years to come. Why? Because, according to the Surgeon General, “Almost no one starts smoking after age 25.”

This is why Dr. Sargent calls for an “R” rating on movies that contain smoking. Refusing a PG-13 (or less) rating for tobacco-fueled films would, in theory at least, keep anyone under 17 from being exposed (without parental consent) to the negative influence of onscreen smoking. If Dr. Sargent is correct, that in turn would measurably reduce the prevalence of underage smoking in America.

And so now the question is out there:

Should smoking be rated “R” in movies?

Or does that take social censorship too far, paving the way for “R” ratings for films that feature other bad health habits, such as eating fatty foods or drinking coffee and soda?

And how does an “R” rating criteria in cinema impact smoking and other bad habits displayed on television?

What do you think, ParentLife families? Take time to talk about it in your home this week.


Have a pop culture question for Trends & Truths? Email it to!



Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents,

Trends & Truth Online: What’s Too Scary for Kids? by Mike Nappa

source: xerhino

It’s October! And during the Halloween season, everyone loves a good scare—especially children. But how can you tell what’s too scary for your kids? Clinical psychologist, Dr. Laurel Basbas, offers a little advice.


T&TO: What’s your perspective on “harmless fright entertainment” for kids 12 and under?

Basbas: In my view, there is no harmless horror. Horror, fright, scary movies; all depend on igniting the ANS (autonomic nervous system) so that the child (or person) reacts with an automatic adrenaline surge. Unfortunately the horror industry banks on the fact that terror is exciting (literally the ANS goes into an excited state). They bank on creating “adrenaline junkies” (people and children that love the high of the excited ANS). Allowing kids to think of the “fright response” as fun, without educating them as to its effects and the inherent dangers, can leave them vulnerable to pursuing the adrenaline rush through whatever means they can find.

Having said that, children will seek a scary story or experience to master anxiety. Facing fears in small manageable doses can be of benefit, allowing the child to learn that s/he can overcome anxieties. In small, short doses, a child faces fears and realizes he can survive the scary moment or experience.


T&TO: Why do kids crave fright entertainment?

Basbas: It is “cool” to like what their peers like. They [also] crave the adrenal rush.

Another reason kids crave fright is the need to master anxiety. As I mentioned earlier, facing fears in small, manageable doses, is helpful. To hear a scary story or see a scary show and survive does help the child. He feels, “I am OK, I can live through a fearful experience.”


T&TO: What’s too scary for kids?

Basbas: It takes a discerning parent to really read their child correctly. Kids usually do not have the discernment to know what scares them, and they may not want to admit they are afraid. No shows that scare either parent’s “inner child” can be a good gauge. Lots of adults don’t want to be scared.

For the kids that feel frightened by the [October] media deluge, teach the younger ones the difference between what is pretend and what is real. Reassure them that the witches, monsters, wolves, ghosts, etc. are pretend and will not become alive to harm them. Pray with them, reading scriptures that promise protection from evil. Psalm 91 is always encouraging, and can provide wonderful discussion about God’s care.


T&TO: What’s the best way for a Christian parent respond to kid-centric fright media during Halloween?

Basbas: Family activity where kids count on the stability and protection of parents helps with any activity. No scary movies without parents present, so there can be a healthy discussion with mom and dad later. Essentially if the entertainment has a redemptive purpose, like the Tolkien series, and the parents use the material to have discussions, it can be instructive.


Have a pop culture question for Trends & Truths? Email it to!


Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents,

Are You Ratings Ready? by Mike Nappa, Trends & Truths Online

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Every wonder how film & TV ratings are determined? Here’s the first in a two-part blog series to help you easily interpret those ratings systems for your family.

First, for any movie, I’d recommend you always look up the “Reason for the Rating” at That’ll give you a clearer idea of a film’s content and whether it’s appropriate for your family. 

G—General Audiences
According to the Ratings Board of the Motion Picture Association of America (, a film with this rating “contains nothing in theme, language, nudity, sex, violence or other matters” that parents accompanied by young children would find offensive. Generally speaking, if you trust the MPAA this rating should be fine for your family.

PG—Parental Guidance Suggested
In a PG movie no drug use is allowed, but “there may be some profanity and some depictions of violence or brief nudity.” This most often shows up as mild swear words or mild violence. Parents should be aware, however, that PG-rated films released before 1984 more closely reflect the standards present in today’s PG-13 rating. You’ve been warned.


PG-13—Parents Strongly Cautioned
A PG-13 movie has more frequent, or more intense, depictions in regard to “theme, violence, nudity, sensuality, language, adult activities or other elements”—but those depictions not as graphic or pervasive as in an R-rated film.

Drug use is allowed in a PG-13 movie. Brief nudity can appear too (usually a bare behind), as long as the MPAA doesn’t view it as “sexually oriented.” Violence is allowed if the Ratings Board sees it as “generally not both realistic and extreme or persistent.”

Most general profanities are to be expected in a PG-13 film, including a single use of “one of the harsher sexually-derived words.” So practice this mantra with your kids: “Just because you hear it doesn’t mean you have to repeat it.”

This film “may include adult themes, adult activity, hard language, intense or persistent violence, sexually-oriented nudity, drug abuse or other elements.”

The Ratings Board applies the R rating broadly, resulting in wide variance between individual motion pictures. For instance, rare “hard language” will receive the same R rating as torture-porn or graphic sex. The “reason for the rating” is the best indicator of content here.

NC-17—No One Under 17 Admitted
The age of admittance for NC-17 seems arbitrary and out of touch with American families. (Why would this content be appropriate for high school kids?) Nevertheless, according to the MPAA: “An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits.”

Next Month: Ratings-Ready Part 2: TV Ratings

Have a pop culture question for Trends & Truth? Email it to!

Mike Nappa is a bestselling author, a noted commentator on pop culture, and founder of the website for parents,