There is a really interesting article in the Christian Science Monitor about the MPAA's rating system for movies, seen above, and how it is largely ignored by parents with small children.
As a frequent filmgoer and somewhat of a cinephile, this is a definite trend I have noticed even in the past few years. Like many of the parents quoted in the piece, I have been disturbed at the seemingly increasing level of younger and younger children being brought to R rated movies by their parents. Just a few months ago, I saw Borat, a film with graphic sexual content and a profoundly racist main character, and was astonished to find a couple had brought two young boys that couldn't have been older than ten.
Now, I understood what Larry Charles and Sacha Baron Cohen were doing and the point they were making with the character of Borat. A ten year old will not. Borat is mentioned in the article as well, and one of the mothers quoted claims in her defense that she explained and contextualized the film after letting her young sons see it. Perhaps, but are preteen children really going to be able to grasp the irony? Are they going to really comprehend, even after being told, that Cohen's character is making a point about global antisemitism and intolerant trends here in the US? I'm skeptical.
That said, what can really be done? There are really only two options: educate families more on the content of the movies, which is the benign approach the MPAA seems to be taking, or make more movies NC-17, which really does prevent anyone under that age from entering the theatre. There is a certain level of personal responsibility here. If the parents are going to bring their kids along, there is no way to stop them, nor should there be. In my mind, there's nothing wrong with increasing awareness about what exactly is in the films to make them R. But it has to stop there. I thought I would never, ever say this, but kudos to the MPAA and CARA for recognizing this trend but not overstepping their bounds in addressing it.
Now how about dealing with those damn cell phones in the theatre?