Toddler watching television from flickr

There was a flurry of discussion on national list servs last week about the nonprofit media review site Common Sense Media.   ALA’s Office of Intellectual Freedom weighed in, raising the alarm that Common Sense Media’s rating guides to media of all sorts (movies, apps, books, and more) are problematic and paternalistic and are gaining unprecedented power.  Common Sense Media ranks media based on things like positive messages and role models, violence, sex, language, consumerism, drinking, drugs and smoking, and also discuss the quality of each item, as well as things families can discuss before/after/during watching.

The Association for Library Service to Children list serv also had significant discussion of the Common Sense Media reviews coming up first in many Google searches about books.  Some folks raised concerns that the CSM reviewers do not have demonstrated credentials in literature, and many pointed out that when the first thing that comes up about a book is the ratings on violence, sex, language, and positive role models, it puts tools into the hands of would-be censors and encourages parents and consumers to look at these factors over the overall quality and value of a book (or other material).  It also has pretty strong age suggestions, which are frowned on by Intellectual Freedom advocates, and sometimes appreciated by parents.

I have found Common Sense Media to be a very helpful tool in sorting through and finding apps, and I have recommended their teaching tools for helping parents and caregivers learn about media and new media use.  I can definitely see that breaking down books and media into a series of value-laden judgments is problematic, but I can also see how it could be useful for finding things for kids (or parents) who are super-sensitive about certain issues.   The reviews I looked at discussed the values, but also gave an overall assessment of the book, movie or app.  Still, there are other helpful tools (ALSC notable lists, CCBC Choices) that it would be great to promote, since they don’t include the same value judgments.

What do you think?  Do you use Common Sense Media?  If so, how?