Rating systems for music, movies, television programs, and video games are useful guides to parents seeking to make age-appropriate choices for their children's media consumption. In isolation, however, rating systems are for the most part only guides which parents must decide to enforce. Rating systems are not a substitute for parental judgment and vigilance.
Media filtering software programs provide parents with a means to build the enforcement of media ratings into the devices through which media are consumed. Such filtering technologies bar youth from viewing inappropriate material based on an automated inspection of media ratings. Parents often have the ability to customize how the filter functions so that it can be adjusted to allow more flexibility as children grow. The aim of filtering software is to create a safe media viewing space in which children may watch television, browse the Internet, and use other media without accidentally encountering content that is inappropriate. Most cable and satellite television providers, video game console manufacturers and Internet service providers offer some form of media filtering software as a part of their service plan.
Media filtering technologies come in many different forms:
Parents can purchase, or Internet Service Providers (ISPs) may supply, computer software that block specific web sites from being viewed that parents do not approve of or to block web sites from being displayed that contain certain key words that parents do not approve of (such as "sex," "Nazi," or "pot"). Examples of Internet Filter Software include Net Nanny, Safe Eyes, CYBERsitter, and PureSight.
Developing effective blocking software is very difficult, as websites are constantly changing - coming in and out of existence - and because a word that may have an unwanted meaning in one context may be perfectly appropriate to use in another. For instance, blocking the word "breast" may prevent you from viewing important medical websites as well as pornographic ones. For this reason, some parents take a different approach. Rather than attempting to block inappropriate content, they install software that keeps a record of all websites which are visited. Modern web browsers can no longer be relied upon to keep this data as many today are build with a "privacy" mode (some say "porn" mode) designed to not log what is viewed. However, website visits can still be tracked if the appropriate software package has been installed. Examples of Internet Logging software include WebWatcher|Kids and Spector Pro.
Parents who choose to go the logging route should (in our opinion) tell youth that the software has been installed so that there is no breach of trust will occur. Parents must also pay attention to the logs that are created, or the software will not have any deterrent effect. As logging depends on youth's desire for privacy to gain its effectiveness, it is of more value with older children as opposed to younger children.
TV and Set-top Box Blocking
Most televisions produced since 2000 have been built with a "V chip". This feature allows parents to program the television to block the display of certain programs based on age or content ratings. If parents do not know how to activate the V-chip on their home television, they can read the television's owner's manual, or websites like TheTVBoss.org may provide specific instructions on how to do so. Furthermore, most cable and satellite television services delivered through a set-top box also have their own built-in features to block certain channels, programs, or programs with certain ratings. Parents can use a pin code to release these controls if they choose to watch a blocked program.
Cell Phone Control
Some cell phone carriers allow parents (who control the cell phone account) to remotely control their children's cell phone use. Typically, parents may set hours when the phone will be functional, or how many minutes may be used before the cell phone will be blocked from further service. As well, parents can block certain phone numbers from reaching children's phone numbers. As each provider implements these controls in a different manner, parents will need to contact their cell phone provider for specific information on how to use these features.
Media blocking technologies offer an important way that parents can guide youths' media choices but they are ultimately limited in what they can accomplish. They will be of most use with younger children. They may become counter-productive when used with older youth who will perceive being blocked from making content choices as both a vote of no-confidence in their judgment abilities and as a challenge to be worked around. There is no substitute for open communication between parents and children, parents' genuine expression of caring and concern for children's welfare and honest interest in learning about what children are doing with and through media. Open communication between youth and parents, clearly communicated and enforced media boundaries and rules, and parental monitoring and education are the strongest and the best tools parents have for protecting children from possible media risks.