Decades ago, when movie critic Nell Minow was raising her children, she limited their screen time to Sesame Street and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, and they only watched TV in the living room.
“It was much easier for me to control,” said Minow, whose readers know her as The Movie Mom.
Now, children increasingly consume television in their bedrooms on laptops and mobile devices. Parents must rely on blocking and filtering technology to protect youngsters from unwanted content. But the TV rating system used by much parental control software is “outdated, obscure, and inconsistent,” Minow said, and parents who rely on it put their children at risk of “bad surprises.”
In May, the Federal Communications Commission told Congress it had “sufficient concerns” from more than 1,700 commenters, including parents, health experts, and media watch groups, to warrant revamping the rating system, a result of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. Since then, “the only thing that has happened is the continuing steady diet of toxic entertainment that is misrated and targeted at kids,” Parents Television Council President Tim Winter said.
Congress 22 years ago mandated V-chip hardware for new TVs and a letter code that appears for 15 seconds at a show’s start to help parents discern age-appropriateness, alert them to sexual and violent content, and block programs they deem objectionable. Parents have long decried the ratings as misleading. For example, Dating Naked, a show that aired from 2014 to 2016, portraying all participants nude (with genitals blurred), was rated TV-14, appropriate for kids 14 or older.
In the 2017-2018 TV season, shows rated TV-PG contained 28 percent more violence and 44 percent more profanity than they did 10 years prior, the Parents Television Council said in a report released Oct. 15. Violence in programs rated TV-14 had more than doubled in 10 years.
The FCC report, ordered by Congress earlier this year, called the 24-member TV Parental Guidelines Oversight Monitoring Board (TVOMB) that determines those ratings “insufficiently accessible and transparent to the public.” The board keeps its membership private except for the chairman, and entertainment industry insiders predominantly fill the seats, maintaining power to oversee the ratings and report them to the FCC.
Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, called the oversight board “fake” and said, “It’s time we call them on it, and it’s time that they change.”
So far, the TVOMB has been silent about the FCC and Parents Television Council reports. That means parents cannot count on ratings or technology to protect their children from dangerous TV content.
Minow’s father, Newton Minow, 93, a former FCC chairman, told her recently, “Parents spend so much time cautioning their children about not talking to strangers, but they invite people into their homes who are far more dangerous” on TV programs.