I don’t usually plug products, people or web sites or anything, other than my husband’s cooking, on my blog but I’ve been using a website that is worth sharing. Particularly for parents who have school-aged children. It’s called commonsensemedia.org.

A few months ago, maybe even a year ago, my brother told me about this web site that someone he knew was a part of. I checked it out and thought okay, it could come in handy. But I really didn’t use it. Until one day, my children told me they watched a movie at their father’s (my ex-husband’s) house. I honestly don’t remember what the movie was but I do remember thinking that they were a little young for it. And I remembered this web site. So I went to the site, plugged in the name of the movie and all of this information came up regarding the appropriateness for children at different age levels. And this movie, whatever it was, was not appropriate. So in a very nice way, I emailed my ex-husband the web site address and suggested he look at movie reviews on this site before the children watch them. Then I spent a little more time on the site myself.

The site reviews movies, games, web sites, books and music. I use it to help me find age-appropriate books for my kids. They are both very strong readers and it’s hard to find books at their reading level with age-appropriate content. The site gives you the capability to sort books by age, by award winners, and even by new releases. And it has the same types of comments as the movies do. It lets you know if there is violence, sex, bad language and more. It also clues you in to what kind of message is being touted in the book. These elements alone make this website a godsend. It’s like having your own youth librarian living in your house.

My 10 year-old daughter has been bugging me to let her read the Twilight book series because “everybody else is”. I read the book last year and my first instinct was that there was no way my daughter should read this. I looked the books up on the site and the site had given them a rating for ages 13 plus. And gave the reasons why as well as reviews from kids and parents. From all of that information, I knew my gut instinct was correct. And from all of that information, parents can make their own well-informed decision.

One of the best parts of the site for me is, now that I am older and don’t take my gingko biloba regularly, I forget about some of the content in old movies or books that I loved as a kid or I can’t remember what age I was when I was first exposed to them. A friend gave me a copy of Fame, the movie that was released in 1980 (when I was 15). My first thought was that it would be great for my daughter to watch. She loves music and dancing. So I looked it up on the web site, and the first thing it said was “Dance pic is sexier, grittier than you recall.” So I watched it alone and cringed at the thought that my daughter would have seen some of the scenes. The sexual undertones, the scene where Coco takes her shirt off for a bogus screen test and cries, and all of the cursing. I enjoyed watching the movie again but was more than happy that my daughter didn’t see it.

The company makes it clear on their web site that they are an independent organization. That the reviewers are all experienced and qualified in their particular fields. The web site’s FAQ does some good explaining about how they operate. And even invites parents and kids to submit their own reviews and ratings. They list ten “Common Sense” beliefs as a guide to their mission that all make a lot of sense to me. For example, “We believe parents should have a choice and a voice about the media our kids consume. Every family is different but all need information.” Sounds right to me.

I’m not saying that this web site should be the end all and be all of my parental media decisions. I’ll continue to use my own common sense and do my own research. But it sure is great as a guideline. I admit that I am stricter with the kind of media that my children are exposed to than a lot of parents I know. And I am fine with that. Even happy about that. I don’t want them to grow up too fast. It’s fast enough already. And they’ll have plenty of time when they are (much) older to watch “Last Tango in Paris” or read “Story of O”.