In late April, the Federal Communications Commission released a new report recommending that the government assume a great role in regulating violent video content on television.In response to that report, I penned a lengthy essay entitled, “FCC Violence Report Concludes that Parenting Doesn’t Work.”
I wasn’t kidding. Flipping through that report, one is struck by the fact that the FCC seems to think that parents are completely incompetent and that only benevolent-minded bureaucrats can save the day from objectionable fare that enters the home. And now Congress is ready to get into the game as well. During the House Commerce hearing I testified at last Friday on “The Images Kids See on the Screen,” Rep. Ed Markey, Chairman of the Telecommunications & Internet subcommittee, said that “I believe Big Father and Big Mother are better able to decide what is appropriate for their kids to watch, rather than Big Brother.” Yet, almost in the same breath, he went on to note that he was prepared to give the FCC greater authority to regulate certain things on television “for the children.” Several others members of the subcommittee made similar statements, professing on one hand to believe in parental responsibility, but then quickly listing several caveats and calling for government to regulate media content in some fashion. Not to be outdone, the Senate Commerce Committee plans a hearing tomorrow on “The Impact of Media Violence on Children.”
For those of us who continue to believe in personal responsibility (as well as that little thing called the First Amendment), this is all very frustrating. As I pointed out in my recent book, “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods,” there has never been a time in our nation’s history when parents have had more tools and methods at their disposal to help them decide what is acceptable in their homes and in the lives of their children. Parents have been empowered to make decisions for themselves and their families. And parents seem to be growing more comfortable with the idea of making these decisions for themselves instead of turning to government to do it for them. Two new public opinion polls reflect that reality.
One poll was just released today by TV Watch, a nonpartisan coalition of 27 individuals and organizations that promote parental controls and individual choices as an alternative to increased government regulation of TV content. (Disclosure: I am a member of the TV Watch advisory board). Today’s TV Watch poll reveals that:
• 73 percent of parents monitor what their children watch, including 87 percent of parents whose children are ages 0-10;
• 86 percent of parents believe that more parental involvement is the best way to keep kids from seeing what they shouldn’t see on television;
• 69 percent of parents were aware prior to the survey that all new televisions 13 inches or larger contained a V-Chip; and,
• 83 percent of parents are satisfied with the effectiveness of the V-Chip and other blocking tools.
And when asked specifically if they agree with the statement that “the best way to prevent a child from seeing content deemed inappropriate is a parent in the home.. not a politician in Washington,” 92 percent of respondents agreed.
A different poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation was released last week and revealed similar things, although not as strongly as the TV Watch poll. The Kaiser poll found that:
• 65 percent of parents say they closely monitor their children’s media use;
• 73 percent of parents say they know a lot about what their kids are doing online;
• 87 percent of parents check their children’s instant messaging “buddy lists;”
• 82 percent of parents review their children’s social networking sites; and,
• 76 percent of parents look to see what websites their children have visited.
Both polls went on the reveal that parents continue to have concerns about what their children see, hear of play, but what parent doesn’t have some concerns about what their kids do!? The important thing to take away from both these polls is that PARENTS ARE PARENTING! They are learning to cope with new media realities and adapt to them to make sure they can monitor and control their children’s media experiences.
In my new book, I spend a great deal of time discussing the importance of informal household media rules as the ultimate in parental control efforts. Surveys show that almost all parents use some combination of informal household media rules to control or monitor their children’s media consumption. (See Part II of my book). And these new polls reflect that reality. And, yet, debates about inappropriate content get so caught up with disputes about technical controls, ratings or even government regulation that we forget that parents often view all these things merely as backup plans to their own household rules.
Bottom line: Don’t give up on parents. Parental responsibility, not government regulation, remains the best way to deal with media in our homes and their lives of our children.