A collaborative project between the University of Notre Dame’s Collaboration for Ethical Education and Democracy and the Robinson Community Learning Collaboration
The goals of the Good Media, Good Kids Project are to:
- Create a database of ethical ratings of children’s media available to the public on the web.
- Educate kids, parents, and community members about media messages.
- Use media with ethical messages to cultivate character.
- Study developmental differences in comprehending media messages.
Individual projects under the overall heading:
Good Books, Good Kids Project
Good TV, Good Kids Project
Good Movies, Good Kids Project
Over the years, several ratings systems have been devised in order to guide parents in judging appropriate media for their children. For example, the most familiar system in the U.S. may be the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) rating system (www.mpaa.org), established by the movie industry in 1968, which provides general age-appropriate categories are suggested to parents in order to help them monitor their children’s television use. Ratings include G, PG, PG13, R, NC-17. According to a recent study (Thompson & Yokota, 2004), the criteria for ratings has been slipping. For example, movies rated G now would have been rated PG ten years ago. Another familiar ratings system in the U.S. is the TV Parental Guidelines, (www.tvguidelines.org), which follows a format similar to the MPAA.
In our survey of media ratings systems, we noted two common characteristics. First, most of the perspectives used to formulate the systems were solicited from individuals associated with media or parents, not psychologists or educators. Secondly, all of the systems focus on negative content (e.g., violence, sex, language). None of the systems focuses on positive content. The Rating Ethical Content Scale (RECS) takes a different tack. Specifically, it rates the positive ethical content in media, analyzing the nature of ethical behavior in a story.
The Rating Ethical Content Scale
In rating the ethical content in media, the Rating Ethical Content Scale (RECS) occupies a niche separate and distinct from other media ratings systems. The RECS seeks to sharpen the focus of common sense evaluations of media and to more precisely identify moral content. Such an approach will be a valuable resource for psychologists, educators and parents.
The ratings system is based on the Four Component Model (Rest, 1983; Narvaez, & Rest, 1995) that identifies four psychological processes that must take place to complete an ethical action: Ethical Sensitivity, Ethical Focus, Ethical Judgment, and Ethical Action. For example, a story with Ethical Sensitivity has evidence of concern for others and awareness of the consequences of one’s actions. A story with an Ethical Focus addresses the ethical demand in the situation, prioritizing moral goals and responsibilities over selfish interests. A story with Ethical Judgment shows characters deliberating about ethical choices. A story with Ethical Action has a character who takes several steps to reach a moral goal and perseveres to complete the ethical action. See the list of RECS Key Questions attached.
RECS has evolved over several studies. For example, Narvaez (1998) compared the virtue categories in the Book of Virtues (Bennett, 1993) to the Model for Moral Text Analysis (MMTA), finding that the MMTA offered a finer-grained analysis more useful to educators and parents. Narvaez, Endicott, and Bock (1999) tested children and adults with an episode of the television show “Arthur.” Children under age 7 had a difficult time rating anything in the show other than concrete behaviors. Narvaez, Endicott, Bock, Mitchell, and Kang (2000) asked groups of teachers to use a positive RECS (rating positive behaviors) and a negative RECS (rating negative behaviors) with an episode from the television show, “Family Guy.” Because the program had more negative behaviors in it, the teachers had an easier time using the negative ratings system.
More recently, a test-retest study was performed with novice raters (Gomberg, Orlova, Matthews, & Narvaez, 2004) over a two-week interval. There was consistent, significant reliability for each of the four score categories (sensitivity, judgment, focus, action).
How RECS Works
For each of the four processes (sensitivity, focus, judgment, action) there are eight questions. Each is answered on a scale of 0-2 based on whether the item was in the story (0=Not At All; 1= Some, 2= A Lot). The answers are added up to create a rating for each process which will be conveyed as “stars” for each of the four processes. In addition, there are other questions on the RECS that allow for a richer description of the story, including which virtues were emphasized. For the full set of questions, see the attached full RECS.
Advantages of RECS
RECS is standardized and practical.
The RECS presents a standardized, scripted analysis for story evaluation. In addition to clarifying standards for developmentally appropriate content, the RECS is a tool to help parents tailor their children’s media selections/use to their specific needs within the Four Process Model. Thus, the rating system provides excellent moral developmental suggestions for many different age groups, without making the decision for the user; the experts’ ratings inform and assist the consumer, rather than merely labeling a media product and suggesting parents follow these guidelines.
RECS is focused on positive ethicality.
Unlike other ratings systems, the RECS focuses on the elements that support ethical development in children.
RECS is theoretically and empirically supported.
The RECS is based upon the Four Process Model (ethical sensitivity, ethical judgment, ethical focus/motivation, ethical action), which is empirically-derived.
RECS is non-partisan and culturally flexible.
Clear-cut decisions are not and cannot be made in evaluation of children’s films and stories. Thus, a purpose of RECS is to evaluate media not as generally “good” or “bad” for the population at large, but to clarify developmentally appropriate content for different age groups and specific groups. In doing so, the system successfully negotiates a variety of cultures and traditions; individuals may decide for themselves if the materials considered are appropriate for their intended use and audience.
RECS will allow experts and non-experts to collaborate.
In its final form, RECS will be available for use by the public on the web. The web will offer expert ratings of children’s books, shows and movies, and at the same time allow the public to rate materials as well.
- Bennett, W. (1993). The Book of Virtues. New York: Simon & Schuster.
- Narvaez, D., Gleason, T., Mitchell, C. & Bentley, J. (1999). Moral Theme Comprehension in Children. Journal of Educational Psychology, 91(3), 477-487.
- Narvaez, D., Endicott, L., & Bock, T. (July, 2000). Rating the moral content of television programs. Annual meeting of the Association for Moral Education, Glasgow, Scotland.
- Narvaez, D., Endicott, L., Bock, T., Mitchell, C., & Kang, Y. (November, 1999). Children and Parents rate the moral content in stories. Annual meeting of the Association for Moral Education, Minneapolis.
- Thompson, K.M., Yokota, F. (2004). Violence, Sex, and Profanity in Films: Correlation of Movie Ratings With Content. Medscape General Medicine 6(3). Posted 07/12/2004 on http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/480900