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"PG' in the eye of the beholder

A recent contestant smart enough to reach the hot seat on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire wasn't sure what "PG" meant in the Motion Picture Association of America ratings system. A lot of viewers probably were scratching their heads, too.

The answer, for the record, is "parental guidance." The question Regis Philbin didn't ask is: How should parents guide what children are viewing at the movies?

There's no cut-and-dried answer, only multiple choices and plenty of people ready to declare yours incorrect.

I'm not telling anyone how to raise his or her children. But I would like to tell you how two parents are raising theirs.

Paul Cronin of Clearwater willingly took his 9-year-old son, Corey, to see the R-rated comedy Scary Movie 2. Sara Hobgood of St. Petersburg took her 6-year-old daughter, Ashley, to see PG-rated Cats and Dogs and got an R-rated surprise.

The way Cronin and Hobgood handled those situations illustrates the vast difference in the ways parents care. Both walked away satisfied they had done the right thing, and some people would agree. Just as many would criticize. Parental responsibility is in the eye of the beholder.

I met Cronin at the Tampa premiere of Scary Movie 2. He had Corey in tow, even though theater and studio representatives were warning parents at the door about the film's raunchy content. Most families decided to leave. One called for a babysitter.

Cronin, 34, decided to stay with his son and several adult friends. He left his 4-year-old daughter at home because "She wouldn't understand the humor."

He agreed to talk about why he doesn't mind Corey seeing movies with adult content.

"R-rated movies are out there," he began. "Kids are growing up fast these days. I don't want him to hide videos and be sneaky about it.

"I want to be right beside Corey to show him it's just a movie. I'm not going to raise him to be ignorant of the world. He's an honor-roll kid. I'm not going to deny him his interests, as long as I can go down the road with him and keep him straight."

Corey watched the original Scary Movie on DVD with his 14-year-old cousin. He has seen numerous R-rated movies at home and in theaters. The Matrix was cool. Sleepy Hollow was too frightening, but most don't bother the Ponce de Leon Elementary School student.

"My parents were the opposite; they sheltered me from those kinds of things," the elder Cronin said. "We discuss what he sees, letting him know what's right and wrong. Whether it's adult content or child content, it's all just entertainment."

I asked Corey what he thinks after seeing movie characters killed in violent films. "That you're not supposed to do that," he said shyly. "Because it's just a movie. Because it's not real."

His father added: "Because it's not legal." Corey looked up at him and nodded.

This week, I called Cronin to ask how Scary Movie 2 played to his son.

"He enjoyed the movie, but he got out of it about what a 9-year-old would," Cronin said. "We talked about it and about why (a reporter) was asking me about him being there."

By now, several of Corey's classmates have also seen Scary Movie 2. "Of course, they're quoting lines they know they're not supposed to be saying," Cronin said. "It's just another stepping stone in his life that he's open to. I don't feel offended as a parent at all."

Hobgood, 37, was offended by Scary Movie 2 because she didn't expect young Ashley to be exposed to it.

The Hobgoods recently attended Muvico BayWalk 20 for a 7 p.m. showing of Cats and Dogs. Dozens of adults and children were directed by ushers into an auditorium. Things seemed odd when the coming attractions began.

The four preview trailers included the R-rated Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back and American Pie 2. The others were PG-13: the suggestive comedy Joyride and a horror movie, The Others, with a closing shot of a shriveled demon croaking: "I am your daughter." Ashley hid her face in her mother's arm at that point.

The first two previews aren't supposed to be shown with family-friendly films, according to guidelines established by the National Association of Theater Owners under parental and political pressure.

"I don't know why we didn't get up to leave at that point," Sara Hobgood said. "We figured if we could get through that, maybe we can get outside and talk to her afterward."

The feature film began, not with battling pets, but with a profane parody of The Exorcist introducing Scary Movie 2. The theater planned to move the adult comedy into a larger auditorium for evening shows, making room for Cats and Dogs, but the projection reels hadn't been switched.

Moviegoers expecting Cats and Dogs complained, and the movie stopped. Film reels were exchanged and the right movie started a few minutes later. A theater employee handed out free passes to future shows, but nobody apologized, according to Hobgood, who said: "That would have calmed a lot of parents down.

"All (Ashley) understands is that it was an adult movie, and it was a mistake. Children at this point think parents are errorless, that they do no wrong. Now it looks like we made a mistake and took a child to see an adult movie. We don't allow that (material) in our household. If it comes on TV, we actually turn the channel.

"Children are going to see it soon enough. Parents should give them a carefree, easy childhood as long as they can."

Ashley hasn't been entirely carefree this week. A few days after the BayWalk snafu, she started waking up crying because of nightmares. Hobgood wonders if that hag from The Others is sneaking into her dreams. "She hasn't mentioned the movie, but she never had nightmares before."