Despite flaws, the new television ratings system offers a small step in the right direction toward helping parents control unsuitable programs in their homes. That was the conclusion of several parents from around Los Angeles County who gathered for a round table discussion at The Times on Thursday morning, just hours after the plan was unveiled in Washington.
As a working single mother, Karen Carter of Long Beach said she cannot always monitor what her children, 13 and 15, watch on TV. "At least I don't have to guess what the kids are watching if there's a rating system to point out things," she said. "I think people who put shows on TV have a responsibility to society to police themselves."
Even parents like Ruth Cohen of Westwood, who said her three children never watch television alone, said she can't control what is shown at friends' homes. "A lot of [my son's] friends get to see the R-rated movies," she said. "A lot of their parents are making the R-rated movies."
"From nothing, this is fairly substantial," said Greg Wheeler, a Monrovia therapist and father of two. Trying to control access to a vast programming landscape that allows risque shows like "Married . . . With Children" on at 6 p.m.--in syndicated repeats--is a "turkey shoot," he said.
Recent parent surveys have elicited conflicting opinions about the TV ratings system, which parallels the Motion Picture Assn. of America's age-based movie rating system and is intended to be applied to V-chip technology ultimately enabling parents to block objectionable categories of shows.
One survey by the national PTA showed that 80% of parents want to know how much sex, violence and coarse language a show contains, not just what age group industry officials think should be watching. Another, conducted by the Roper Center for the New York-based Media Studies Center, also showed that parents wanted some form of guidance, but preferred a content-based system. A third survey, compiled by Peter D. Hart Associates and Public Opinion Strategies for the industry committee that devised the ratings system, found that parents overwhelmingly approved of an age-based system.
Of the seven parents in the Times round table, many said their concerns with television extended beyond sex, violence and language in commercial programs to, for instance, how women or people of color are depicted, violence on news shows and sex in commercials.
Some said ratings are only marginally helpful anyway, considering differences in children's individual personalities and development. The feature film " 'Beauty and the Beast' was rated G," Cohen said. "My 5-year-old was scared to death of the Beast."
Cohen said she finds movie reviews helpful and suggested adding the letters S, V and L to the TV ratings system so parents would know if a show received its rating for sex, violence or language.
Parents remained somewhat confused after Thursday's announcement about how the system would work and whether they would be as competent as their children in programming TV sets to activate the blocking system.
"Are they going to rate every episode of 'Friends'?" Cohen asked. "One week it could be TV-14 and the next week it could be TV-PG. . . . How are you going to get that by your 12-year-old who's saying, 'This is my favorite show, the one show I want to watch every week and all of a sudden this week it's a 14 and I can't see it'?"
Edward Redd, a training supervisor from Santa Clarita, said parents do need help. "Most parents today, they're out working 12, 13 hours a day. You can't monitor your kid over the phone."
One parent said he had no interest in a ratings system because he didn't want anyone else dictating how he should monitor his child's television viewing. Raul Perez, 28, a single father and attorney from Elysian Park, said he grew up on MTV and violent shows without ill effect because his parents offset the images with their values.
Perez said he wouldn't use the V-chip because it's a "superficial solution to a complex problem. My obligation is to help my daughter understand the real world," he said.
Ruth Denburg Yoshiwara of Westwood wondered when she would need the V-chip. For now, her children, 4 and 6, "still listen to us," she said. When they get older, they'll need less supervision and can handle stronger content.
Marcia Meaway, a single mother from Crenshaw, said there is also the problem of multiple TVs. When the set in her children's room wears out, she said she'll replace it, but perhaps not the one she watches, with one that has a V-chip.
Meaway said she hopes that by parents blocking shows and having an effect on ratings, advertisers would get the message not to sponsor coarse or vulgar programs. "I'm hoping we'll be able to turn them around and shape them with it."