Parents Less Worried by Media Exposure

Some Experts Warn of False Sense of Security About Sex, Violence Content

Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on June 19, 2007
From the WebMD Archives

June 19, 2007 -- Parents appear less concerned about their children’s exposure to sex and violence in the media than they once were.

That’s according to a survey released Tuesday that has tracked parental attitudes since 1998.

But two-thirds of parents still say they’re concerned about the level of inappropriate content on airwaves, the Internet, and in movies. Just as many say it’s time for the government to step in and do more to regulate sex and violence during prime-time viewing hours.

The survey of roughly 1,000 parents of children aged 2-17 found that 40% to 50% were very concerned about the amount of violence, sex, or adult language their kids see in the media. The figures were each down by at least 16% from a decade ago, concluded the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, which issued the reports.

“Most of them feel like they’re managing to cobble together the tools they need to do a pretty good job,” said Vicki Rideout, a Kaiser vice president and the study’s main author.

But what parents are actually using to cobble together a sense of control over their kids’ media exposure is less clear. Despite a federal law requiring V-chip lockout devices in all televisions produced since 2000, only one-sixth of parents who own the devices use them, the study showed. Less than six in 10 were aware their TVs contained the chips.

At the same time, parents’ use of ratings systems for movies, video games, and television has either remained roughly the same or dropped since 1998. Only music warning advisories are more popular than they once were, used by 11% more parents than a decade ago.

Parents Fooling Themselves?

Victor Strasburger, MD, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media, warned Thursday that the study masks the fact that children’s exposure to violence and other unhealthy media messages is often out of adults’ control.

“Parents are fooling themselves,” Strasburger said during a panel discussion reviewing the report’s implications. “I think parents would like to think they’re controlling the media [their kids see], but they’re not.”

Parents are desensitized by repeated depictions of violence and sex in the media, just as kids are, Strasburger argued. That could explain why parents believe they are doing a better job protecting their kids.

Strasburger was one of several experts who called for universal ratings for music, Internet content, video games, movies, and TV. “The ratings systems are a mess,” he argued.

Confusing Ratings

There was some evidence showing parents are confused, at least by the current TV rating system that codes potentially objectionable content with different letters.

Only one-third of parents correctly identified an “S” rating as warning of sexual content, while only half knew that a “V” rating stands for violence, the study showed.

But Jim Dyke, a former Republican National Committee communications director who now runs an antiregulation group called TV Watch, said voluntary controls give parents the choice of whether they want to monitor their children’s viewing.

“Just because people are not using the available technologies doesn’t mean the system’s a failure,” Dyke said.

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Show Sources

SOURCES: Parents, Children, & Media, Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, June 19, 2007. Vicki Rideout, vice president, director, Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. Victor Strasburger, MD, chairman, American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Jim Dyke, Executive director, TV Watch.

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