As a mom trying to raise my teens to be morally strong in a toxic culture, I welcome all the help I can get.
Thanks to Adam Thierer -- a former Heritage Foundation scholar and currently a senior fellow with The Progress & Freedom Foundation -- I've got a handy new guide to essential tools to assist in the battle for my kids’ souls. It’s called “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection.” Whether we’re talking about TV, the Internet, movies or video games, Thierer’s report shows that you have options beyond escaping to a cabin in the woods (which sometimes seems your only recourse as you wade through today’s omnipresent pop-culture sewage).
Let’s start with TV. Most people are aware of the “V-Chip” and similar features that allow parents to filter TV programs by rating. (For those unsure of how to navigate such tools, Thierer suggests www.thetvboss.com, which offers tutorials on how to program V-Chips.) However, not everyone knows you can block individual channels and lock them with a password. There are also several tamper-proof “TV time management” devices on the market that allow parents to set limits on how much time is spent watching TV. You can even buy a special remote for children (a “Weemote”) with large, simple buttons that parents program to access only approved TV channels.
Parents, as I’ve written before, can learn more at the Web site of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. NCTA affiliates provide free parental controls to customers who request them. Just log on to ControlYourTV.org. I have the controls on my digital-cable access, and I love being able to block programming based on rating, channel or other criteria.
And were you aware that you can get a system for your TV that filters out profanity? Seven million Americans use “TVGuardian” boxes to keep crude language out of the family living room. Parents can also check a range of good Web sites (including “Plugged In Online,” which I’ve recommended before) that offer detailed reviews of movies and other media. Many sites grade on specific content, so you can make an informed judgment about whether a particular show is right for you and your family.
One great site to visit for movies is dove.org. As I noted in a previous column, the Dove Foundation was founded to promote family-friendly entertainment in a refreshingly positive way. It doesn’t organize boycotts. Instead, it encourages good movies by reviewing films for parents and by putting its "Family-Approved" seal on those that actually provide clean entertainment.
In his report, Thierer offers guidance with the various other media, from music players to Internet gaming sessions. Each section contains a list of helpful tips and hints. And “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection” is loaded with footnotes and Web addresses so you can delve deeper into particular technologies or subject areas that interest you.
It’s important to realize that no single “fix” can really address your concerns with each technology. In the chapter on Internet use, for example, Thierer covers the importance of using a “layered” approach -- using, for example, a Web filter in addition to monitoring and time-management tools, etc. This advice applies to all the media in question. After all, no device is perfect. Using more than one with each medium provides a crucial safety net.
Thierer’s 117-page survey is comprehensive enough to cover the parental controls available for a wide variety of media. But it’s careful enough to avoid overwhelming busy adults with too much information. It also avoids the confusing techno-speak that plagues many appliance manuals.
In the end, though, it’s not enough to install V-chips and check ratings. As I note in my book, “Home Invasion,” and as Thierer points out in his “Informal Household Media Rules and Tips for Parents”:
“Strongly consider removing televisions, game consoles, computers and other media devices from kids’ bedrooms. Parents who allow their kids to lock themselves in their rooms with media technologies have surrendered their first line of defense.”
Smart parents also realize that shielding their children from bad influences is only part of their task. As Thierer writes:
“Teach your children what you’ve learned and teach them how to be smart media viewers and consumers. With a little guidance and common sense, they’ll become savvy and discriminating media consumers just like you.”
Today’s technology offers consumers more choices -- and therefore more perils. But smart parents can also use cutting-edge tools to make their jobs a little easier. “Parental Controls and Online Child Protection” is a good place to start.