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Parents report more clout in TV oversight

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Times Staff Writer

Parents are growing more confident that they can protect their kids from inappropriate content on TV, the Internet and video games, a new poll has found, but still worry that their children are exposed to too much sex and violence.

The mixed results from the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation will probably provide ammunition for both sides in the increasingly heated debate over shielding children from excessive sex and violence in the media.

About two-thirds of parents polled are still “very concerned” that children in general are exposed to too much risque and bloody programming and support new federal restrictions on what broadcasters can air during early-evening hours. But parents who use the V-chip, a device in most TVs that allows programs to be blocked, generally find it very useful.

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“It may not be a perfect system ... but parents who use it, like it,” said Jim Dyke, head of TV Watch, which represents broadcasters and other groups opposed to more government regulation.

The poll also found only one in six parents have used the V-chip, and there’s been little growth in the use of TV ratings by parents, who continue to be confused about the meaning of the categories. For example, only 11% of parents knew that FV, which stands for “fantasy violence,” had anything to do with violence. Nearly as many, 9%, thought it meant “family viewing.”

“For anyone to look at the results of this study and say, “We’ve done our job, I think we have a good situation here,’ ” I think is fooling themselves,” said Timothy Winter, president of the Parents Television Council, which has pressured broadcasters and regulators to clean up the airwaves.

The issue of sex and violence on TV has flared this year after the Federal Communications Commission released a report advocating new government curbs on violent programs and a federal court struck down the agency’s tougher obscenity policy. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on TV violence next week, and entertainment industry representatives and advocates for more government restrictions probably will wield the survey results to bolster their cases.

Vicky Rideout, director of Kaiser’s Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health, agreed there was a mixed message in the poll of 1,008 parents of children under 18 years old and focus groups held in Irvine, Dallas, Chicago and Washington.

“While parents are still concerned about the broader media environment that they’re raising their kids in ... most of them feel like they’re managing to cobble together the tools they need to do a pretty good job of monitoring media their own children are exposed to, at least while they’re at home,” Rideout said.

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The percentage of parents who are “very concerned” that their children are seeing too much inappropriate content has dropped since a similar study in 1998 -- from 67% to 51% for sex, from 62% to 46% for violence and from 59% to 41% for adult language.

Overall, 65% of parents said they “closely” monitored how their children use the media. Parents were particularly confident of their ability to monitor the Internet, with 73% saying they know “a lot” about what their kids were doing online.

Use of TV ratings by parents is up from 42% in 1998 to 49%. Only 16% of parents said they have ever used the V-chip, but 71% of those who did found it “very useful.” Nearly half of parents who have TVs with the V-chip, required since 2000 in all sets manufactured with screens larger than 13 inches, were unaware it was there.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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