The Oprah Winfrey Show and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? are not children’s educational shows. Try telling that to the parents who participated in studies on Children’s TV, published recently by The Annenberg Public Policy Center. According to the Washington, D.C.-based think tank, of the 1,200 parents surveyed, 70% incorrectly identified both programs as educational fare for their kids. It’s one of several damning pieces of info to turn up in Annenberg’s Reports on Media and the Family, which charge that despite government and industry efforts like the V-Chip and the three-hour rule, parents are increasingly doing a poorer job of guiding their kids’ TV viewing.
Researchers found that parents’ knowledge of Parental Rating Guidelines (PRGs)-the age and content-related labels, which the U.S. government has legislated broadcasters include with all of their kids programming since `97-had fallen 20% from three years ago. Nine out of 10 parents, in fact, were unable to identify the age ratings for a sample of programs that their kids watched regularly. The reports also found that of the 20% of U.S. families with the V-Chip or another content-blocking device in their TV sets, only half were using them.
The report says broadcasters, which in many cases have instituted their own rating systems, have made it confusing for parents trying to discern the content suitability of shows. And while the report says broadcasters have been adequately meeting the requirements of the three-hour rule (which forces them to air three hours of kids educational programming per week), researchers acknowledge that it’s become nearly impossible for parents to find out which shows meet the criteria, namely because sources such as TV Guide and daily newspapers have stopped listing the ratings.
The report recommends that broadcasters do a better job of explaining their ratings systems to parents, and that policymakers and kids TV advocates increase their efforts in informing parents about the policies.
Getting a handle on what shows kids watch on TV takes on added importance at a time when more families have subscriptions to the Internet than newspapers, says Annenberg researcher Emory Woodard. If parents are already facing difficulties trying to guide their kids’ TV viewing, he adds, it’s likely that greater troubles will lie ahead as new media technologies enter the home.