Focus on the Family

TV and Today's Family

from Plugged In Online and Focus on the Family

There's never been more television programming options available than there are today. The average home now receives more than 100 channels thanks to cable and satellite receivers. As technology constantly changes and improves, parents must ask themselves where their families fit into the mix.

Focus on the Family realizes the importance of understanding these issues. Plugged In Online, Focus on the Family's media-review department, works to reveal the dangers of the American love affair with television and how to combat this obsession.

This series of articles uncovers several key issues pertaining to modern media and the threats posed to families today. Through this module, you will discover the truth about TV ratings, the fine balance of TV use in the home and how it affects your children.

Trusting TV Ratings – Not Such a Good Idea

According to a 2007 Parents Television Council report, content descriptors are not being consistently used
by any of the broadcast networks during prime time viewing hours.

by Rachel von Gnechten

Many parents do their best to monitor what television shows their children watch. But fighting against their efforts is the looming fact that Television Parental Guidelines are often misunderstood and underutilized. In 2007, the Kaiser Family Foundation performed a study concerning the overall effectiveness of TV Parental Guidelines. Results showed that, "although more than 80 percent of parents have heard of the TV ratings, most do not understand what they mean."

Though many parents would like a useful and accurate way to supervise the ratings of television shows permitted in their homes, at this point they do not have the proper resources. To resolve this issue we must look to the source of the ratings themselves. Knowing where the problem starts, and who is making the push for change, gives parents a louder voice against the issues revolving around lax TV ratings.

For the few who have not heard of these TV ratings, they work much like movie ratings. However, content descriptors for TV ratings are a bit more complex than the familiar “G” to “R” ratings for films. Television ratings include a suggested appropriate audience, ranging from "Y" meaning for "all children" to "MA" representing the "mature audiences only" category. The big difference though, lies in content labels, represented by letters such as "V" for violence and "D" for suggestive dialogue. Television shows may include as many content labels as necessary.

The confusion begins, however, when these content labels are not properly assigned. Evidence of this perplexity comes from front runners in the fight against inaccurate TV ratings, the Parents Television Council; the group that functions under the motto, "Because our Children Are Watching." This council "aims to provide parents with the tools they need to make informed television viewing decisions."

In March 2007 the PTC found that "67 percent of the shows reviewed that contained potentially offensive content lacked one or more of the appropriate content descriptions." Needless to say, there are flaws in the system leading several commentators to claim that "TV Parental Guidelines are confusing and are applied inaccurately and inconsistently to television programming."

The Children's Media Policy Coalition claims, "The prevalence of inconsistent and inaccurate age-based and content-based ratings should not be surprising" because television networks assign ratings to their own programs. In fact, there is "an element of self-interest at play in allowing the networks to rate their own programs. Networks are financially motivated to under-rate their programs because a more restrictive rating could scare off advertisers," says Katherine Kuhn, author of The Ratings Sham II report for the Parents Television Council.

Perhaps we should not assume that the problem starts and remains within television networks themselves. Among other aspects of television, the TV Parental Guidelines are regulated by an independent U.S. government agency called The Federal Communications Commission, which is overseen by Congress. The commission claims to be "committed to being a responsive, efficient and effective agency… [that] regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable."

As regulator of "communication by television," ensuring the accuracy of TV ratings falls to the lot of the FCC. But who guarantees that the FCC is doing its job? In this case, we turn to the Parents Television Council for aid. Members of the PTC started the battle against inaccurate TV Ratings back in 2005, drawing awareness to the issues with today’s television rating system in a PTC publication titled "The Ratings Sham."

Since then the battle has continued, with very little progress toward changing or improving Television Parental Guidelines. The PTC commented on the issues again in 2007 with Ms. Kuhn’s follow-up report, The Ratings Sham II: TV Executives Still Hiding Behind a System That Doesn’t Work. Thanks to the work and research of the Parents Television Council, the Child Safe Viewing Act of 2007 required the FCC to submit a report on the "examination of advanced blocking technologies and existing parental empowerment tools." Again in 2009, PTC research "exposed the proliferation of sex, violence, and profanity in TV programming [and] demonstrated the failure of the TV ratings system to adequately inform parents about program content." It seems we are chasing the FCC and TV networks in circles here!

Parents are fed up with the hide-and-seek games that television networks are playing. An article published in June 2011 by Bill Hendrick that appeared on WebMD Health News claims that parents are both concerned about current media content and believe that improvements to the rating system would aid them in making decisions regarding media and their family. Mr. Hendrick states: "A majority of parents surveyed felt there should be a universal rating system for all media." Such a system would apply to television, movies, music, videogames, websites, and even games played on handheld devices. That sounds like a win-win situation for parents and TV networks!

So what should parents do in the down time, while they wait for the FCC to come out from their hiding place?

Start by getting to know the television shows that your children watch. View the shows with them, or even preview the show before allowing your children to see it. Make use of the recording live TV feature available with most TV service packages today. Research television shows online to learn more about the typical content and overall message of the show. Finally, consider purchasing a TVGuardian system for your family. TVGuardian filters out foul language from live television with several filter settings including filters for offensive content related to religion and sexual references.

There are ways to protect your family against the dangers of today’s media, regardless of the flaws in the Television Parental Guidelines system. Do your part to support the efforts of the PTC, and continue to protect your family to the best of your ability.

TV and the Home: Finding the Balance

Here are several common-sense principles to help balance TV viewing time and its influence in your home.

by Bob Waliszewski

Although various forms of transmitting pictures electronically switched into high gear in the 1920s, most Americans became aware of "television" when it was introduced at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. There, President Franklin D. Roosevelt gave the opening day address, and his speech was not only broadcast over various radio networks but an estimated 1,000 people also viewed the Roosevelt telecast from about 200 television sets scattered throughout the New York area. But it wasn’t to be until after World War II, that the 200 TV sets in existence would take off like wild fire, and become as common in the American home as a car out in the driveway.

In the overall history of mankind, living with (and dealing with) televised programming is a relatively "modern" happening. Sometimes I wish the TV had been around at the time of Christ so we could have captured His thoughts on how to use it wisely. But alas, there is no mention during the Sermon on the Mount about TV. No parable taught by our Savior to prompt us into healthy media choices regarding viewing habits.

Fortunately, although never referring to television directly, God has a lot to say in His Word that can help us navigate this important and impactful medium (check out Psalm 1 and Colossians 2:8 for starters). In addition, I’d like to outline several common-sense principles that can help us with TV viewing:

  1. Guard Your Heart. Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else guard your heart." Much of what passes for entertainment these days goes straight to our heart because we watch with a less guarded approach. I would suggest we watch with a discerning, carefully guarded mindset instead. Great questions to ask yourself are these: "Would the Creator of the Universe be pleased with this TV show?" And, "If the program had been around during the time of Christ, would Jesus have gathered his disciples to watch (or allowed it if they’d asked)?"
  2. Record cherry-picked TV programs using a DVR. Not only will you be able to skip through the commercials (a terrific time saver!), but you’ll be more strategic in what you view. Plopping down in front of the TV set with the remote often means settling for something less than wholesome and inspiring.
  3. Consider using a filtering device to watch television programming. TVGuardian makes a device that edits out foul language out of all TV programs and broadcasts that use close captioning. It cleans up what you hear on network and cable TV. ClearPlay, while primarily a movie-editing DVD device and software, offers filtered versions of entire seasons of televised programming. These "cleaner" versions may be just what your family is looking for.
  4. Invite the television into your family only when it has something good to say (and show). A few years back, A Lakewood, Colo., father was arrested for hiring a stripper to perform at this 12-year-old son’s birthday party. Although an outrage, if the father has merely exposed his son and his son’s friends to similar perversity but on the tube, he would have escaped arrest . . . and the resulting community service penalty. It’s my belief that parents allow way too much inappropriate content into their homes via the TV set – content that they wouldn’t allow if it was "live." In my opinion, there’s not a whole lot of difference.
  5. Keep the home television in a well-trafficked area; avoid the mistake of allowing your young person a set in his or her or bedroom.
  6. Talk back to your TV. When watching television as a family, if and when you hear something you disagree with, verbally state it in the presence of your children. Something like: "That character’s lying is wrong. Hopefully it’ll lead to consequences later in the program. If not, sadly it has portrayed lying in a positive light – something I, as your father (mother) do not agree with." When your children hear you talk back to your TV, they’re learning your values, too.
  7. Do your research ahead of time. Some TV programming can be inspiring and uplifting. Some can damage our heart and spirit. But how can you know ahead of time? Fortunately, several trustworthy websites exist that have done the analysis ahead of time (like our very own
  8. Don't use the TV as background noise. Many families have the television on all day (or most of the day). This is not a healthy practice. Instead, turn it on to watch quality programs at a predetermined time (hopefully as a family for discussion purposes).
  9. The TV set should not be a babysitter. Parenting by putting our kids in front of the tube is not a good idea. I'm OK with this on a rare occasion. But too many moms (and dads) resort to it as the first option, when it should be a last. And for sure: Researchers are clear in their advice that children under the age of two should not be exposed to televised programming at all.
  10. Model what you’re trying to teach your children. If you have one standard for your children, but a whole different standard for yourself, someday your children will find the hypocrisy hard to deal with. While it is certainly great practice to limit some TV viewing to age-appropriate years, the test is this: Is this program I'm watching something that I someday would want my child to watch? If it is, you’re not being hypocritical, just parenting wisely.

Is Televised Poker Helping Raise a Generation of Gamblers?

Poker parties and online gambling are increasing in popularity with young people.

by Tom Neven

Mention "poker night" and what comes to mind? Aging men sitting around a card table smoking cigars and drinking beer? These days you're as likely to find kids dealing stud while eating pizza and downing soft drinks.

Poker, particularly a variant called Texas Hold 'Em, has become a pastime as popular with some teens as video games. Poker parties are now common among high school and college students. During its 2004 pre-semester orientation, UCLA even offered a poker night for its incoming freshman class.

More Than 1 Million Young People Gambling Online Monthly

In 2002, the National Annenberg Risk Survey of Youth began tracking gambling among young people ages 14 to 22. Based on its 2006 survey, the organization reported that more than one million young people use Internet gambling Web sites every month. And for males ages 18 to 22, Internet gambling doubled in 2006 over 2005 results. While the overall percentage of 14- to 22-year old males who reported playing cards for money on a weekly basis dropped slightly for the first time since 2002, the percentage still increased among 18- to 22-year old males.1

The Lure of Televised Poker

Helping to fuel card playing's increased popularity has been the rise of televised poker. Ever since The Travel Channel first aired the World Poker Tour in March 2003, other broadcasters have jumped into the fray. ESPN now airs The World Series of Poker, while Bravo, Fox Sports Network and Spike TV have their own poker shows, all with sizable ratings. Beyond watching people place $10,000 bets and greater, the televised games serve as learning tools. For example, ESPN lets viewers see what cards each player is holding, and commentators give advice on betting strategies.

"It's fun. It's exciting. ... But randomness is always going to have a bigger factor in determining the outcome than your skill," says Keith White, executive director of the National Council on Problem Gambling. "Unfortunately, that's not the message these kids get."

Some parents see no problem with the current craze. In an article in The Boston Globe, one mom told her 15-year-old son, "At least I know where you are. You're not out doing drugs, or drinking and driving."

Ken Winter of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at the University of Minnesota said of poker mania, "Some of it is actually favorable, very pro-social." He believes it gives teens a chance to exercise math skills and learn to control their emotions. "It's a lot better than sitting and watching TV. Your brain is getting strengthened, although it would get more strengthened by reading."

Small Stakes Can Lead to Hard-core Gambling

Granted, most young people are playing for small stakes. And for some it may be a recreational activity more than a cash grab fueled by greed. But it's the habit that's dangerous. The 2006 National Annenberg Risk Survey of Youth found that the symptoms of problem gambling parallel card-playing trends, especially among older male youths.

Despite the "good" things being said about young people betting on poker, a certain percentage of teens will develop into hard-core gamblers. For example, counselors at a summer camp in Illinois found that teens were skipping traditional activities such as swimming and sports while they played poker in their cabins. Counselors put an end to it when a teen was caught stealing from other campers to feed his gambling addiction.

More dangerous, once the habit is developed, things can only get worse. It's not unusual for teens to get their own credit card when they go off to college. That card gives them access to a host of Internet poker sites that are happy to take their money as the stakes climb much higher. Some Internet gamblers quickly find themselves in debt to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars.

Some of the excitement of poker comes from the inherent combination of chance and skill. Other games rely on this formula. Yahtzee. Scrabble. Hearts. Betting isn't part of these games. But suggest that teens play them instead of poker and just wait for the rolling eyes and groans. That reaction is proof that the primary allure of poker is the wagering. For that reason, parents should keep the habit from gaining a foothold in their home. It's simply not worth the gamble.

1Dan Romer, Ph.D., "More Than 1 Million Young People Use Internet Gambling Sites Each Month."* October 2, 2006. Accessed July 2, 2007.

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