Movie Mom

Movie Mom


FCC Commissioner Adelstein on Children and Media

posted by Nell Minow

FCC Commissioner Jonathan Adelstein gave an important speech last week to the Media Institute titled Stuck in the Mud:
Time to Move an Agenda to Protect America’s Children
.
[M]any parents are feeling inundated by an array of media that are flooding their children’s minds with inappropriate material. Too many parents feel like they are losing control, and they’re frustrated by a seemingly relentless march of coarse material that is too violent, too sexual, too commercial or too unhealthy for their children. Messages or images their children are not ready to hear pop up in too many places for parents to easily control, from insensitively timed commercials during otherwise family-friendly programming to Internet ads and spam coming over the computer.

There is growing concern about unhealthful messages and images as well. We are all familiar, for instance, with the obesity epidemic in America, its impact on our children, and how much marketers are spending to sell unhealthful products to children. Many studies show the damaging effects of advertising on children’s food choices. Some of your companies have taken important steps, but there is far more to be done.
For parents, it’s like a game of whack-a-mole, with an increasing number of moles jumping up faster and faster. Too many parents suffer from a sense of exhaustion or futility.

He spoke of his own frustration when despite his best efforts to protect him, the Commissioner’s own son accidentally came across a television program that disturbed him because it had “lots of blood.” And he spoke of his own “whack-a-mole”-style frustration over the limits of the Commission’s authority in a multi-media world. Even within those limits, he regretted the lukewarm report issued by the Commission on the impact on children of violence in media, which failed to include adequate information about options for better parental control or adequate exploration of regulatory options. And he regrets that the Commission’s focus on indecency has failed to address other content concerns.
[T]oday, I am calling on Chairman Martin and my fellow commissioners to launch a proceeding as soon as possible to examine comprehensively the existence and availability of advanced blocking technologies and to propose a national plan to inform U.S. households and parents about media literacy and parental controls, as proposed in the Pryor bill. We need to find ways to supplement the ongoing efforts of the broadcasting and cable industry.
He also asks for better and clearer ratings from the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board.
We also need to encourage ratings of all TV content – entertainment programming, promotions and commercials alike. One of the most frequent complaints I hear from parents is about watching sports, or other family-friendly programming, and then a raunchy beer commercial or a violent or sexually suggestive promotion for more mature program comes on. Broadcasting and cable need to better address this problem through responsible standards and practices to ensure that ads don’t appear in programming watched by younger viewers than the promotions were intended for.
He also asks for better alternatives.

In order to offset the flood of inappropriate material, we should encourage more positive children’s programming like the free quality children’s programming offered by public broadcasters that require more resources to produce, and innovative commercial broadcasters that require more carriage by distributors to succeed. The Commission can help by providing broadcasters with a clearer set of guidelines to identify what constitutes “educational” content.

For more information or to provide comments or add your support to these proposals, email the Commissioner here.



  • jestrfyl

    One of my concerns is that this focuses mostly on external controls. The families that have the least problems with their kids watching habits are those whose parents watch with their kids. My kids and I, since they were little, have watched together – and in watching have commented freely on what we are seeing. For that reason, they are more critical of the bad stuff, but also more open to watching a range of things. That is not to say we don’t watch some of the gory, stupid, and silly stuff. But we watch it critically – talking about special effects, story line, character and plot development, believability, artistry and more. And sometimes we simply watch together (though there are some things I cannot stand any more)
    The real issue is that parents are all too willing to surrender control to outside influences, for good or bad. Parenting is a serious and long commitment to personal time with your kids. I have found the programs that are created for adults and kids are the ones we watch the most, and will watch several times after. Kids like to know what parents enjoy, and parents will learn a whole lot about their kids by the choices they make. Endure the dumb stuff and you may be able to guide them toward higher quality material.

  • Nell Minow

    I very much appreciate these thoughtful comments, jestrfyl, and I agree. In fairness to the Commissioner, I think he focuses on those controls to give parents better tools to help them understand the choices they are making and avoid bad surprises. I share his sense that it is like a whack-a-mole game trying to stay on top of everything that is out there.
    I am most concerned by the astounding number of families who allow children to have televisions and DVD players in their rooms, relinquishing any opportunity for the shared experience and opportunity for discussion and critical analysis you describe. And I hate to see families watching media in the car and while eating — those are crucial times for family conversation.

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