These days, kids have easy access to hundreds of TV stations and millions of Internet
sites. And they can buy or download countless video
games and apps. There's a lot of media out there, and some
of it might not be appropriate for your child, depending on his or her age and maturity
The best way to monitor media that kids use is to experience the media yourself.
Test apps and play games before your kids use them. View and play apps and games together
with your children. And watch what they watch so you can talk about what they're seeing
on their screens. You know your kids best, so you're the best judge of what they can
When closer monitoring and more control are needed, parents have a number of ways
to keep track of the media their kids watch, play, and use. These tools may not shield
kids from all inappropriate material, but they can help.
To help filter your kids' Internet use, start by setting up iOS and Android profiles
for your kids on all the online devices they will use (smartphones, tablets, and computers).
This will let you restrict all the apps and games they can download and play, and
all the websites they can visit. You also can set time limits on their Internet use.
Also, most of the big email providers, such as Google and Yahoo, allow parents
to create child email accounts for younger kids. These accounts can forward all their
emails to you and let you monitor their contacts and communications. Kids must be
at least 13 before they can have Google or Yahoo accounts of their own.
Social media sites
like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram also require kids to be at least 13 before they
can have their own accounts. To keep an eye on your child's social media activity,
set up accounts of your own and check your child's pages and activity for yourself.
Many parents also insist on knowing the passwords to their kids' accounts, although
some parents may consider this an invasion of privacy.
A number of programs and apps can monitor teens' social media accounts and alert
parents to any inappropriate language or photos. Many software programs and apps are
available — from free to expensive — that can give you detailed reports
of your child's browsing history and tell you how much time your child spent online
and on each site.
But no amount of monitoring can protect kids from everything. So encourage your
child to be a responsible Internet user by being a good role model and talking to
your child about online safety.
If any problems — such as cyberbullying
or sexting — come
up, use them as teaching moments to help kids understand the importance of protecting
themselves and their reputation online.
TV Ratings and the V-Chip
Two ways you can help monitor what your kids watch are TV Parental Guidelines
TV Parental Guidelines. Modeled after the movie rating system,
this is an age-group rating system developed for TV programs. These ratings are listed
in television guides, TV listings in your local newspaper, and on the screen in your
cable program guide. They also appear in the upper left corner of the screen during
the first 15 seconds of TV programs.
But not all channels offer the rating system. For
those that do, the ratings are:
TV-Y: suitable for all children
TV-Y7: directed toward kids 7 years and older (kids who are able
to distinguish between make-believe and reality); may contain "mild fantasy violence
or comedic violence" that may scare younger kids
TV-Y7-FV: fantasy violence may be more intense in these programs
than others in the TV-Y7 rating
TV-G: suitable for a general audience; not directed specifically
toward kids, but contains little to no violence, sexual dialogue or content, or strong
TV-PG: parental guidance suggested; may contain an inappropriate
theme for younger kids and contains one or more of the following: moderate violence
(V), some sexual situations (S), occasional strong language (L), and some suggestive
TV-14: parents strongly cautioned — not recommended for
kids younger than 14; contains one or more of the following: intense violence (V),
intense sexual situations (S), strong language (L), and intensely suggestive dialogue
TV-MA: designed for adults and may be unsuitable for kids under
17; contains one or more of the following: graphic violence (V), strong sexual activity
(S), and/or crude language (L)
V-chip (V is for "violence"). This technology lets you block TV
programs and movies you don't want your kids to see. All new TV sets that have screens
of 13" or more now have internal V-chips, and set-top boxes are available for TVs
made before 2000. The V-chip allows you to program your TV to display only appropriately
rated shows — blocking out other, more mature shows.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requires that V-chips in new TVs recognize
the TV Parental Guidelines and the age-group rating system and block those programs
that don't adhere to these standards.
The rating system and V-chip can be valuable tools, but they can also cause problems.
Research shows that preteen and teen boys are more likely to want to see a program
if it's rated MA (mature audience) than if it's PG (parental guidance suggested).
Also, broadcast news, sports, and commercials aren't rated, although they often
include depictions of violence and sexuality. So even with the V-chip and ratings,
it's still important to preview shows to see whether they're OK for your kids —
and to turn off the TV if they're not.
Video Game and App Ratings
Some apps and almost all video games available for purchase (through retail channels
or by downloading) are rated by the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB). The
ESRB has six rating categories:
C (for Early Childhood): content is intended for young children
E (for Everyone): content is generally suitable for all
ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence; and/or infrequent use
of mild language.
E-10+ (for Everyone 10+): content is generally suitable
for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy, or mild violence; mild language;
and/or minimal suggestive themes.
T (for Teen): content is generally suitable for ages 13
and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated
gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.
M (for Mature): content is generally suitable for ages 17
and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content, and/or strong
A (for Adult Only): content suitable only for adults ages
18 and up. May include prolonged scenes of intense violence, graphic sexual content,
and/or gambling with real currency.
The ESRB also has a long list of content descriptors to help explain why a game
or app got the rating it did. Examples include things like nudity, blood, strong language,
use of alcohol, and use of drugs.
The iTunes Store has its own rating system for apps that is based on age. The categories
Internet monitoring, V-chips, and ratings can help shield kids from inappropriate
material, but they can't block everything. As a parent, even if you program the V-chip
and only buy or download age-appropriate games and apps, it's still important for
you to pay attention to what your kids are watching or playing. Parents should think
of themselves as their child's media coach, someone who can talk about and help them
understand what they're seeing.