Study: Parents have an eye on the kids

Most say they have a handle on TV, Web use

WASHINGTON -- For all the hand-wringing policymakers do over television, parents say they are gaining control over what their kids watch, according to a survey released Tuesday.

A Kaiser Family Foundation's national survey of 1,008 parents of children ages 2-17 found that 65% say they "closely" monitor their children's media use, while only 18% say they "should do more."

"While parents are still concerned about a lot of what they see in the media, most are surprisingly confident that they've got a handle on what their own kids are seeing and doing -- even when it comes to the Internet," said Vicky Rideout, vp and director of Kaiser's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health.

The survey found that the proportion of parents who say they are "very" concerned that their children are exposed to inappropriate content has dropped since 1998 -- from 67% to 51% for sexual content, from 62% to 46% for violence and from 59% to 41% for adult language.

According to the survey, parents showed confidence that they can monitor their children's online activities; nearly three out of four say they know "a lot" about what their kids are doing online. Almost 90% whose children engage in Internet activities say they check their children's instant messaging "buddy lists"; slightly more than 80% review their children's profiles on social networking sites; and about three-quarters look to see what Web sites their children visit after they've gone online.

Jim Dyke, executive director of TV Watch, a coalition that includes some television networks and opposes government control of TV programming, said the survey shows that government intervention is misguided.

"If parents can make these decisions and enforce these decisions, why should the government?" Dyke asked.

However, the survey found that parents still have significant concerns about children's exposure to inappropriate media content in general. Two-thirds said they are "very" concerned that children in this country are exposed to too much inappropriate content in the media, and a similar proportion favors government regulations to limit TV content during early evening hours.

It's a point seized on by proponents of more regulation. Tim Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, a group critical of the TV industry, said the study proves parents want more government action.

"The study underscores just how strongly parents feel about sex, violence and profanity in the media and its negative influence on their children," he said. "It clearly shows that the status quo is not working and that the industry must do more to provide a real solution."

Minority parents express the most concern: Black and Hispanic parents were more likely than whites to say they are "very" concerned about their children's exposure to sex, violence and adult language in the media.

The report comes as Congress again is preparing to take up the issue of violence in the media. A hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled for Tuesday.

While Sen. John Rockefeller, D- W.Va., was expected to introduce legislation aimed at curbing violence on broadcast and cable TV, he has reportedly decided to delay introduction of a bill.

On June 4, a federal appeals court in New York struck down the FCC's new policy of punishing the fleeting use of the "S" and "F" words on broadcast TV. The ruling has thrown doubt on the rationale behind government regulation of broadcast content.

In April, the FCC issued a report to Congress saying that lawmakers could regulate television violence without violating the First Amendment's free speech protections.