How do you decide which movies are appropriate for your Scouts, Venturers?

Parents decide which movies are OK for their children and which contain too much violence, bad language or sexual content.

But what happens when that guardianship temporarily transfers to you, the Scout leader? How do you decide whether it’s OK to watch that PG movie on a Cub Scout overnight or a PG-13 movie with your Venturers?

That becomes even more complicated when you realize that 12 parents may have a dozen different definitions of inappropriate movie content.

Side note: Watching movies isn’t a common Scouting activity, of course. We Scouts and Scouters prefer to have most of our fun outside. But there are times during camporees, summer camps, training courses or unit trips when I think they’re perfectly fine.

I have fond memories of seeing a movie with my Philmont crew on the way back from New Mexico. After hiking in the backcountry for 10 days, we felt we earned a couple of mindless hours at the movie theater.

For moviegoing Scouters, trouble starts when you try to interpret those MPAA ratings. For a time, the Motion Picture Association of America only provided the rating: G, PG, PG-13, R, NC-17. And those ratings included some head-scratchers: Did you know Jaws was rated PG?

These days, we get a rating along with a few descriptions of why the movie received that rating. Helpful stuff.

For example, you might be OK taking Scouts to a movie that’s PG-13 for “Intense Sci-Fi Action” but leery of one that’s PG-13 for “Crude Humor.”

Resources to help you

Some great online resources take it one step beyond what the MPAA gives you.

Check out Kids-In-Mind and Common Sense Media for some easy-to-interpret guidance on a movie’s appropriateness. They give the facts and let you decide.

Kids-In-Mind rates movies from 1 to 10 in three categories: sex/nudity, violence/gore and profanity. Ratings range from 1 for almost none to 10 for an obscene amount. They get really specific, even bothering to count the number of obscenities used. (I’d like to meet the person who does that job.)

Common Sense Media gives a recommended minimum age for a movie — very helpful for a Scout leader. It also uses categories but includes both positive and negative ones: Positive messages, Positive role models, Violence, Sex, Language, Consumerism and Drinking, drugs, & smoking.

Share your policy

How does your pack, troop, team, post, ship or crew handle watching movies? Do you inform parents of which movies you’ll be showing to get their consent? Have you ever had a parent react negatively to a movie you showed your Scouts? I’m interested to read your comments.

See also

Boys’ Life‘s list of the 100 Best Movies for Boys

23 thoughts on “How do you decide which movies are appropriate for your Scouts, Venturers?

  1. Our Pack will only shop G rated movies at events. We have done them at overnight camp outs or events at our Charter Org. This way we have no worries about the content.

  2. For movies rated before 1984, there was no PG-13. That’s why movies like Jaws and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom are rated PG.

  3. Our units are diverse, but what is appropriate for a mixed gender Explorer post or Venture Crew is not the same as what I would show to a Tiger Den. But, in general, if the movie line and content follows the Guide to Safe Scouting then it’s probably ok. I won’t show them anything I haven’t previewed myself though, as, today’s standards, language and content aren’t the same as they were in the midst of WW II. Kids have a hard time differentiating the two. As an example, I WOULD show them the old Errol Flynn 1938 movie “Robin Hood”, even though it shows sword fighting and shooting arrows at people, both violating the Guide.

  4. For a unit level, we give parents a heads up for consent. When running district or council level events it’s always G for cubs. PG for the older ones. We always try and find an older movie, keeping in the theme, they may not have heard of or seen before, so it’s not something they’ve seen a dozen times.

  5. I believe the best policy is to err on the side of caution. I use the websites mentioned above to make informed decisions as a parent and I think scout leaders are bound to be thoroughly familiar with what they are approving for the scouts under their care. I typically will inquire what movie is being shown when I hear that is a plan so that parents can decide. I would never show anything rated over PG to any group of youth.

    I was stunned once to encounter Transformers 2 being shown at a council level winter camp. This is rated PG 13 and was being shown to scouts age 10 1/2 & up. This movie was very inappropriate and even the scout in charge of the AV equipment determined to censor some of the movie by putting his hand over the projector and by quickly (but not quickly enough) reducing the volume at times. As a parent who had chosen not to expose my own children to that movie by thorough research, I was shocked when the movie was played. My young son was giddy with excitement about being able to see a movie that he had heard about and wanted to see but we had determined wasn’t appropriate. There was over 400 boys in the audience. Other leaders expressed mutterings about the inappropriateness of the movie and a few took their boys out of the cafeteria where it was being shown. I went to the officials of the camp while the movie was still being shown and was further surprised that the person who chose the movie hadn’t looked at the rating and hadn’t researched it. He didn’t even know that it was rated PG 13, had trouble locating the rating on the package and didn’t recall seeing anything offensive in the movie when he watched it. I discreetly collected my son from the audience and went back to our campsite and as a parent got the experience of being “the bad guy” by removing him from the situation. The next night the “other half” of the camp rotation got to have their movie night but the movie being shown had been changed to Happy Feet. The boys were not happy with the change especially knowing that the boys from the previous evening had seen Transformers 2. This was not a good situation all around and could have been avoided by conscientious leaders. Many boys were exposed to language and other situations that should have never been a part of any scout experience considering the age of the participating boys.

  6. I don’t think age of movies is a good indicator, as several have said so far; for example, despite changing (loosening) contemporary attitudes you will find a lot more female nudity in 70s and 80s films rated PG and PG-13 than you will in most post-90s PG-13 or even R-rated movies. A classic you might think of as a great film for teens isn’t necessarily so, either, especially if you’re only used to seeing the TV edit (Breakfast Club will burn your ears). I love movies and I love sharing movies with young people, so I think it’s a shame that so many great coming of age films aren’t appropriate in a Scouting setting (but that’s the irony, that’s what coming of age entails).
    You just have to view the film and judge whether it lives up to the oath and law we have scouts swearing on their honor every week. People of Scout and Venturer age are keenly aware of hypocrisy, so the example we give is crucial.

  7. I find it hard to chose any movies of late that I would show to our youth. I ran a High Angle Event and wanted to show a movie that had ropes, rappelling, and other high angle elements in it. I could not find one that did not have sex, swearing, or violence. I would not dare show “Cliff Hanger” I would have to edit out all of the swearing and shooting and the movie would only be about 5 minutes long.

    I asked my pastor about it and he ordered “The Climb” for me. I reviewed it and it was good. I even liked it since I did not have to pay for it. I got a lot of good feedback from the adults.

    • We go on a canoe trip about every year. At the little store near where we camp they have t-shirts that say “Paddle faster, I hear banjo music” ROFL!

  8. Another resource that can be helpful is IMDB.COM. They have more details, particularly about ratings – including foreign rating systems. Additionally, over time, the values of the rating board has changed. For example, in past years, violence Wasn’t the concern it is today. For example, the John Wayne movie The Green Berets is rated G by our MPAA – yet it has a substantial amount of war violence. In parts of Canada it is PG, and in places in Europe it is considered a 16 and up movie. Yet, the more recent Saints and Soldiers had a lot less violence, but got a PG-13 rating in the US. I wouldn’t hesitate to show either to my children as long I was there to discuss things with them (I did and was), but as a Scouting leader I don’t think I would show it to my unit without permission from all the parents.
    The good news is there are plenty of movies that would have little to no controversy. We’ve used “Follow Me Boys” pretty commonly as it gives a historic look at Scouting.

  9. We have a large troop ranging from Scouts who just crossed over in March (10-11 year olds) to our Ventures (some of whom are 18). We only show movies maybe twice a year, and the Scouts are segregated by age.
    So if the younger ones want to watch a movie and they are not in middle school it must be PG.
    Once they are in middle school we show PG13. Have never gotten grief from parents.

  10. We have a lock-in event once or twice each year, one around winter break and the other in early spring. After going swimming and playing sports at the high school or an evening of bowling, the Scouts return to the church for a night of movies, games and non-stop food offerings. We do set a PG-13 limit on the films the boys bring, and have never had a parent argue about content. The films range from “The Grinch,” to “Beverly Hills Ninja” or maybe a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” marathon as examples.

  11. Our troop does not watch movies. There are more and better things to see outdoors. On the other hand I had to watch two movies during Wood Badge.

  12. For those of you who only show “G” rated movies, did you know that Frozen is PG? So are Happy Feet and Kung Fu Panda – so are MANY animated kids movies, mostly for things like “minor animated martial arts scenes / violence” or something similar. The studios figured out that PG movies do better in theaters so they add just enough to get a PG rating.

    First of all, we have never shown a movie at a pack event. Second, if we do, it will be G or PG. I succesfully argued for our local elementary school PTOs to be allowed to show PG movies based on how few movies are PG, and the fact that some older G-rated movies like Dumbo are actually worse (he gets drunk, mom gets locked away) than modern PG movies like Turbo or Bridge to Terabithia (for slightly older Scouts, not Tiger Cubs).

  13. I think we have to err on the side of caution. Everybody has different values and we need to be respectful. I avoid much by avoiding showing movies. That said our Lodge chartered a bus to Vegas for a Conclave and, naturally, the boys wanted watch movies. We started with Follow Me Boys but some more mature movies followed. We didn’t receive any complaints but… At another event one of the early Harry Potter movies was shown and many complaints were received.

  14. Two times a year for the Troop, never, so far , for the Pack. Yes, we announce the movies ahead of time, with ratings if possible.
    Troop: Winter cabin camp in January/February is about winter hiking and board games indoors. Night after dinner, pick a movie like “To Start a Fire” (Jack London ) or “Second Hand Lions” and some classic Popeye cartoons. The Scouts (believe it or not) love the insistence on NO ELECTRONICS. Coming up: a District Lock In STEM adventure , featuring “In the Shadow of the Moon” (history of the Apollo missions, told by the Scout Astronauts, Ron Howard, director) and (for comparison) “Destination Moon”, 1950 sci fi. And some old cartoons.
    The trick is to NOT depend on the kids recommendation or the Rating on the box. Transformers 1,2,3….. what is to be learned or remembered from those wastes of celluloid or electrons? The language or violence or sex is not always reflected by the rating. Maybe the adult stuff is manageable: Watch “The Worlds Fastest Indian” and see the difference of rating vs content. A little realistic violence, some mild naughty language, peeing in the back yard, a transvestite who is a real friend to our hero, and a true story of courage and persistence and acceptance of an dream realized. Worthy of older Scouts , I think.
    The trick here, I think, is to NOT just go with what is in NETFLIX or REDBOX or what is “suggested” , but to go with what you have seen yourself and what is “classic” ( yes, Errol Flynn was a closet Nazi, there is a talking point for your boys).
    Go back to “Treasure Island” for adventure. For the cinefiles amongst your Scouts, show all four main versions ( silent, Disney, Muppets and Wallace Beery) . Reach out, do some easy research (google is your friend) and dvds are cheap. Check out Movies Unlimited. It can be a worthwhile, fun time DESPITE the challenges.
    “…. mentally awake …” at the movies, too!

  15. Why is anyone showing movies at scouting events in the first place? Scouting doesn’t offer enough so Scouters have to show movies?

    We’ll never show movies in our pack while I’m Cubmaster.

  16. River work: “Same River, Twice” by Feature Films for Families
    Sports: “The Pistol” true story of Pistol Pete Maravich, Feature Films for Families
    Soldiers and war: “All Quiet on the Western Front” realistic about the effects and reasons for war, several versions, the 1930 Lew Ayres is the classic, the 1979 Richard Thomas is good.
    Sci Fi: “After Earth” with Will Smith, courage and loyalty tried.

    There are flicks out there worthy of your time and effort. The Scouts will enjoy, and (maybe) learn summat .

  17. I had tried to post this on a scouting Facebook page, but will try it here as well. American Heritage merit badge, requirement 5a has the option of watching 2 motion pictures representing different time periods, so this question is very relevant as I am working up my “approved” list. For example, I think for older scouts, with parental support, the movie “Glory” has very important educational lessons, however, it’s “R” rating for realistic language, violence, etc. makes me reluctant to publish it on my list. I also think there could be educational value in scouts comparing the difference between 1962 “Longest Day” and 1998 “Saving Private Ryan” only with parental support to guide he boys through Private Ryan’s graphic depiction of the horrors the heroes of Normandy overcame.

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