West Lafayette, Indiana - The Motion Picture Association of America has been under fire for its R-rating of “Eighth Grade,” an independent film about a middle school student directed and written by comedian Bo Burnham. The movie garnered the rating for explicit language and some sexual material, according to its IMBd webpage.

Glenn Sparks, a media effects expert and professor of communication at Purdue University, said you shouldn’t judge a film based on its MPAA rating, just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.

“Research clearly shows that what parents really want is a content-based rating system,” Sparks said. “Parents are in the best position to make decisions about their child’s likely response to a film, but they need to know the actual content before they can make an informed decision. The MPAA ratings system fails to provide the information that parents really need.”

Despite the rating, Burnham opened up the film to all ages during free screenings Wednesday nationwide, according to a post on the film’s Twitter page. Parents researching the film should consider the MPAA rating in tandem with other systems, such as Kids-in-Mind, a website that rates movies on a one-to-10 scale for categories such as violence, sex and language, and offers detailed content descriptions in each of those categories, Sparks said.

“The MPAA age-based system is too broad and fails to account for important differences in children’s development,” he said. “Developmental research shows that children’s responses to film content varies considerably depending on their exact age-range and level of development Some content that may not adversely affect 6- to 7-year-old children may have harmful effects on older children that are covered by the PG-13 category.”

Sparks encouraged parents to learn as much as possible about the content of a movie, using that information in conjunction with knowledge about their own child in making a viewing decision, rather than relying on an age-based rating system.