The Protection of Children from Harmful Effects of Films in the United States
Author: Jonathan Perl, Media Center, New York Law School
In the U.S., children are protected from the harmful effects of films through a combination of
government regulation and industry-regulation. The contour of the various protections is the result of a
continuing struggle to reconcile tension between two legitimate and often-contradictory goals: upholding the
First Amendment of the United States Constitution ("First Amendment" or "Constitution"), which limits the
Federal government's ability to take more aggressive action and the universal agreement by the public, film
industry, and policy-makers that children must be protected.
I. PROTECTION OF CHILDREN FROM FILMS IN THEATRES
a. The System of Self-Regulation
In the U.S., the film industry self-regulates the distribution of its films in theatres. The system of selfregulation
is implemented with the cooperation of the relevant industry players through three basic steps: (1) the
film is submitted to the Classification and Rating Administration ("CARA") of The Motion Picture Association
of America ("MPAA") for a rating that is a cautionary warning for parents;4 (2) CARA issues one of its five
ratings – G, PG, PG-13, R, or NC-17 - to the film; and (3) a theater will only show a film if it has been issued a
rating by CARA and will only sell tickets to the film under the conditions recommended for its rating.