Q&A about child safety when accessing films online with Lucy Brett from the BBFC

Lucy BrettAn online survey commissioned by The Industry Trust for IP Awareness, in partnership with the BBFC, shows that a quarter of children surveyed download or stream movies from unofficial sources, which offer no guidance on age ratings.

Lucy Brett from the BBFC answers your questions about child safety when accessing films online.

 

Q. Gazzalw:  I seem to recall that way back when I was a tween/young teen, many peers went to see 15 and 18 certified films when they were way younger. Given that teenagers have always been doing this type of illicit activity, should we as parents really be that concerned?

My son hasn't seen anything older than a 12A and he's nearly 13 - he doesn't download/stream movies on his own. Although I'm wondering whether we've allowed him to watch any inappropriate films with us in the evenings. Perhaps it might be worth putting the ratings for films in TV guides etc?

A. Lucy Brett: I know children watching films that are rated above their age might not be a new phenomenon, but what we're wanting to draw attention to with this campaign is the fact that children today are able to access films on the internet via pirate websites which do not carry BBFC ratings or guidance and could lead to children watching something that is meant for much older kids unintentionally.

"What we want to draw attention to is the fact that children are able to access films on the internet via pirate websites which do not carry BBFC ratings or guidance and could lead to children watching something that is meant for much older kids."

Added to that, films on illegal file-sharing websites can be deliberately mislabelled so children could be accessing all kinds of upsetting content.

Kids themselves are also telling us they're upset by what they're seeing and wish they had checked the age rating first. So it's important to start them young, and make sure they know where to access films safely and legally online.

In terms of what you watch with your son at home, each child is different and you know best what he's likely to enjoy or is able to cope with. This is why we created BBFCinsight information for all films - to allow parents to make informed decisions.

Some newspapers and TV guides do include the BBFC age rating but it's not mandatory. Also some TV on demand platforms do carry BBFC age ratings - you can find a list of these on our website. If you are using a guide or platform that doesn't include BBFC age ratings, you can use the FindAnyFilm website to find BBFC age ratings and BBFCinsight. 

"Kids themselves are also telling us they're upset by what they're seeing and wish they had checked the age rating first. So it's important to start them young, and make sure they know where to access films safely and legally online."

Q. diamond211: My concern is the way they are rated by the BBFC. I am no prude but I am shocked by the graphic content and language that is now seen as the norm for a 15 certificate film.

I know it is for parents to ultimately decide what their children can and cannot see and to block access to age inappropriate films but is is so much harder to tell them that a film is not suitable for them when the film 'rating' says that it is.

Ultimately I think the BBFC needs to take a long hard look at film classification and re-evaluate what is acceptable for certain age groups. 

A. Lucy Brett: The BBFC uses largescale public consultation exercises, carried out every four to five years, to create Classification Guidelines that are in step with general public opinion. We adjust these standards and criteria in response to any changes in public attitudes, so our ratings are very much the result of what audiences are telling us, but some people's expectations vary on certain issues, like strong language or violence for example. This is why we provide BBFCinsight information, so it's clear what type of content you can expect to see in each film and help you make informed decisions for you and your family before watching a film.

As you know, the 15 is an age restricted category, rather than advisory and it is more robust as a result, so we test carefully during our Classification Guidelines consultations to ensure we're in step with broad public opinion about what is acceptable at 15. You can read our guide to 15 here

Q. quietbatperson: I agree that some film ratings have surprised me, the recent Superman film being an example. There was no bad language, no sex etc, but the violence was pretty excessive, and it has a 12A certificate. I'd like to know how that was appropriate for a child to watch.

A. Lucy Brett: The 12A certificate was introduced in response to parents telling us that they felt some children under 12 were equipped to deal with films rated 12. After extensive public consultation and research the 12A was introduced to allow parents to decide whether to take their children or not. When we rate a film 12A we still think it's most suitable for 12 year olds and older.

It's important that you have the information available to gauge what your children can watch. Some children might be fine watching fantasy violence, for example, whilst others might be more sensitive to it but enjoy watching more realistic drama. To help adults make this decision, we provide BBFCinsight for all films which explains in detail what you can expect to see in a film.

It's always difficult when an age rating surprises us, which is why we make sure everyone can find out about a film before they see it. This is the BBFCinsight for the most recent Superman film, Man Of Steel. BBFCinsight is usually available 10 days before a film is released in cinemas.

Q. apprenticemum: My daughter gets films from VIOOZ and MEGASHARE. I have no idea if they are legal sites and if not, what the consequences might be. I would be grateful for enlightenment.

A. Lucy Brett: These websites aren't legal sites, they are illegal streaming websites. It's good that you've spotted this and can have a conversation with your daughter about the risks involved of using these type of sites.

Unlike legitimate film websites, pirate websites offer no guidance on age ratings leaving your daughter at risk of viewing content that's too old for her. Files from file-sharing sites can also be deliberately mislabelled so she could be accessing upsetting content unintentionally.

Using illegal sites and file-sharing programmes can be risky - they expose users to the risk of computer viruses and pop-up adverts that can be difficult to get rid of. File-sharing software can also compromise your privacy and security putting things like your bank details and other sensitive information at risk.

There are reliable websites out there you can use to ensure she's using sites that are legal and carry BBFC age ratings information.

FindAnyFilm was set up by the film industry so only carries legitimate content and it uses BBFC age ratings and BBFCinsight information.

To verify if a website your daughter is using is legal or not, enter the URL into the search box on TheContentMap website, which provides a directory of legal websites for film and TV.

Q. AyUpMiDuck: In my opinion it is the Music videos on YouTube and on music channels which are graphic and unsuitable for young eyes. The content is seemingly uncensored and unclassified and leaves very little to the imagination and promotes gratuitous sex and poor images of relationships. Likewise the language used is filthy.

"It's important that you have the information available to gauge what your children can watch. Some children might be fine watching fantasy violence, for example, whilst others might be more sensitive to it but enjoy watching more realistic drama."

A. Lucy Brett: When it comes to online, we know there's a lot of difficult content out there and with cinema films and DVDs, sex and nudity is treated very carefully. At the moment music TV channels are regulated by Ofcom and it's not a legal requirement for music videos online to be classified by the BBFC. Some DVDs of music videos are also exempt from being classified by the BBFC under the Video Recordings Act (VRA), but recently a government review of the VRA has suggested that any DVDs that would be rated 12 or higher by the BBFC should be classified, to help keep parents informed and to protect younger or vulnerable children. This change in the law is expected to come into force in 2014.

The change being made to the VRA doesn't cover music videos online, but we would be happy to classify these, in accordance with Reg Bailey's recommendation, if this is what the industry and government asked us to do.

We're also working with the Dutch media regulator NICAM to test a rating tool for all types of online videos. The tool would let members of the public fill out a short questionnaire each time they watch a video and an age rating would be given depending on their answers. This would be used as a guide for other viewers, and for parental control systems.

The music industry does use an 'explicit content' label on CDs and DVDs and on digital music and video services such as iTunes and YouTube for content produced and published in the UK. Videos uploaded outside of the UK aren't covered by this, but the music industry in the UK is in discussion with Internet Service Providers, record companies and websites that display music videos, about incorporating 'filters' that would allow parents to prevent access to explicit music content online.

The record industry represented by the BPI is continuing its conversations with a number of digital service providers to seek their adoption of the scheme and to encourage all services marketing to UK consumers to use the label.

YouTube also has a great safety centre so you can block certain types of content have a look at their parents guide.

Q. Nerfmother: Classification needs to be joining forces with Internet and YouTube so that there is a consistent standard. Any thoughts on joined-up thinking?

A. Lucy Brett: We're also in favour of a joined-up approach. We commissioned some research in 2011 which showed that 90% of parents want the same classifications online as they expect to see in the physical world, on DVDs and at the cinema. The BBFC does rate films for use on the internet. FindAnyFilm and many of the major online providers are already working with us to use BBFC age ratings and BBFCinsight on their online services. You can find a list of these here

Legal websites also require credit card details to access films, which children won't be able to do without an adult being present. There are also parental controls in place. Many legal film platforms use BBFC ratings to calibrate their parental controls meaning a password must be entered to access content over a certain age rating.

"The research showed that a quarter of 11-15 year-olds admit to accessing films via illegal pirate websites. As these sites rarely carry any age ratings or guidance, the worry with this behaviour is that kids can be unintentionally accessing films that are meant for much older audiences."

Q. Anyexcuse: I'm more worried about the classification given to films than I am about what my kids are downloading. All kids, above about 10, know swear words and the odd 'fuck' gets a 15 rating yet the sexual content of some '12s' is just hard to understand. Much easier to explain that 'fuck' etc is a rude word that shouldn't be used in polite company than to explain what's going on in some romcoms.

A. Lucy Brett: The research showed that a quarter of 11-15 year-olds admit to accessing films via illegal pirate websites. As these sites rarely carry any age ratings or guidance, the worry with this behaviour is that kids can be unintentionally accessing films that are meant for much older audiences.

We use largescale public consultation exercises, carried out every four to five years, to create Classification Guidelines that are in step with general public opinion. You can download the Classification Guidelines and read our guide for parents on the BBFC website to see how we treat issues parents tell us are important, like strong language, sex and drugs.

We also realise some people's expectations vary on certain issues, like strong language or sex. This is why we provide BBFCinsight information so it's clear to parents what type of content they can expect to see in each film and whether it's suitable for their child.

BBFCinsight for The Back Up Plan can be found here.

Q. SunnyIntervals: I think 15 films I've seen have been really scary. Good points about music videos. A soft play near us has them on during sessions, so under fives are subjected to quite a bit of steamy content

A. Lucy Brett: Our age classification ratings are designed in consultation with public opinion to gauge how people expect films to be rated. But we know it's important for parents to be able to read about the issues in a film and decide if it's right for their child. You can read our guide to 15 here.

Unfortunately the BBFC don't have an enforcement role with what soft play centres or playgroups can show to kids in their care but it might be worth broaching the subject with the management about what you feel is appropriate for young children. 

Q. Oblomov: Why would I have any concerns about what films my children are accessing online? Do you mean what they ares able to access, that is getting past the parental controls, we have set up?

All the other points made, regarding YouTube and music videos, they are MUCH more of a concern.

A. Lucy Brett: Research shows lots of households have rules in place (around 50%) but children don't always follow these. As I said earlier, music videos and other videos online are not required to carry an age rating, but we are working on tools which websites might be able to use in the future to rate videos online voluntarily. For now there is advice provided by YouTube about blocking certain kinds of content and some parental controls can also help parents regulate what videos their children are watching online.

"It's also worth being aware of how to block access to content on their mobile phones and other devices, as kids are increasingly online outside of the house."

 Q. Tee2072: I do think film classifications need to be reviewed, with more detail as to what they mean, not just on the BBFC website, but on the actual rating, i.e. rated 12A due to cartoon violence.

A. Lucy Brett: Recent research showed us that kids are disturbed by some of the films they're accessing on pirate websites. The issue here is that pirate sites don't contain any age ratings or guidance about what they are about to view, so they can end up watching films that are meant for much older teens unintentionally.

Also, children are much more adept at technology now than ever before, so it's important to start them young and get them to appreciate why films are rated the way they are.

All film ratings come with short BBFCinsight, for example: 12A Contains moderate action violence and one use of strong language.

This BBFCinsight usually appears on DVD boxes, some cinema posters as well as on our website and free Apps for Android and iPhone devices. It explains the key issues that resulted in the film receiving a 12A rating. Lots of parents find the BBFC App really useful because it saves the information each time you update it, so if you're at the cinema and you don't have a wifi or 3G connection, you can still check age ratings and BBFCinsight when choosing what film to see with your family.

It's worth noting our education work, which shows that even younger children can engage with age ratings and we're about to relaunch our CBBFC website, designed specifically for primary school children.

Q. EATmum: I'd applaud the work that the BBFC put into analysing films so there is always good guidance available for parents to make informed decisions about whether a film is suitable or not. 

My bigger concern, like others, is the classification system and its bias. We seem to be far more concerned about swear words than violence, and that seems insane to me. I appreciate that everyone has different views about this - but the casual stereotyping/sexism in most movies and the accepted levels of violence don't seem to affect the ratings at all.

I'm not worried about what my children download here, because they'd have to do it with us around - but I have little control about what happens at other people's houses, so it would be good if that could be better controlled I guess.

A. Lucy Brett: It's great that you have rules in place around what your children can download and watch at home. But it's also worth being aware of how to block access to content on their mobile phones and other devices as kids are increasingly online outside of the house too, as you say. Check out their mobile phone providers' website for more info on this.

You also mention what goes on at other people's houses. Perhaps you could broach the subject with other parents by showing them this Q&A, or talking to your daughters to make sure they feel confident to tell other parents they aren't happy to watch things over their age range. It's also worth having a look at FindAnyFilm where all the films listed are age rated and from trusted sources.

The BBFC film classifications are determined in accordance with public opinion, but we know parents need information to make viewing decisions.

It's fair to say we've moved away from a tick-box approach as the guidelines have shifted in line with what the public tells us is important, so, for example, you'll see a greater emphasis on tone, impact and context in our guidelines, but at the same time, the public still tell us repeated use of strong language isn't acceptable to them at the advisory age ratings. 

Q. AlmostPerfect: I find its not just the music videos. Nearly every song now is about sex, violence or swearing. As for YouTube, he watches mindcraft walk throughs, I've had to turn them off as they are full of swearing, as are Mario and Harry Potter walk throughs. None of which you have to log in to watch.

A. Lucy Brett: As I said in another answer, our remit doesn't currently cover music or music videos, but it is worth checking out YouTube's safety centre - and to look for the 'explicit content' label on digital music and video services.

You can also find out more about how video games are rated by visiting the PEGI website

Q. enderwoman: I'd appreciate it if films on TV or services like Netflix showed a rating for films before a movie like they do at the cinema. Maybe TV movies should show that screen after each break to protect kids as there seems to be no proper watershed anymore.

"People's expectations vary on certain issues, like strong language or sex. This is why we provide BBFCinsight information so it's clear to parents what type of content they can expect to see in each film and whether it's suitable for their child."

I'd appreciate ratings on YouTube too. My six year old loves watching people play minecraft and these range from harmless fun to very sweary so I have to vet what he watches. I'd also like pop ups and banner ads to be age appropriate. My children have seen inappropriate ones on age appropriate websites like free gaming ones

A. Lucy Brett: We do work with Netflix and other platforms so they can use our ratings information clearly on their site, but not all platforms show the rating again before the film starts. Some other platforms do show a black card with the age rating before the film starts, for example BT Vision do this, as do British Airways when you watch a film on one of their flights, but it's not a legal requirement.

Similarly, films shown on TV apply Ofcom rules and they're not required to show a BBFC age rating, but parents can use the BBFC App or website to check the age rating of a film being shown on TV to help guide them. FindAnyFilm also shows BBFC age ratings for TV series where BBFC age ratings are available for the service on demand or on DVD.

It might be worth looking at the BBC website about their approach to what is suitable for showing before the watershed.

With regards to YouTube, it is worth checking out YouTube's safety centre to find out about blocking offensive content.

You can also find out more about how video games are rated by visiting the PEGI website.  

Q. worldgonecrazy: My daughter has very restricted viewing anyway, but I do worry about what is deemed "age appropriate".

There is a lot of inappropriate stuff out there that doesn't need to get past censors. I remember when my daughter was born and I was stuck on the sofa breastfeeding, at 9am the music channels were showing Lady Gaga and Beyonce doing soft porn.

A. Lucy Brett: We do work with younger children in schools and find they're very receptive to learning about age ratings that are appropriate for them and even older children have said they're concerned about younger siblings watching them use pirate websites or watching films that aren't age appropriate for them.

As I said earlier, it's not in our remit to rate music videos currently, but we are working on tools websites might be able to use in the future to rate videos online voluntarily. 

Last updated: over 1 year ago