The V-chip: point-and-click parenting

Monday, March 16, 1998


(Editor's note: The Federal Communications Commission has approved a
television rating system and adopted technical standards for installing of
V-chips in all new television sets. Here are the comments of one mother on
the conflicts between rating TV programs and the First Amendment. Solange E.
Bitol is legislative counsel for First Amendment-Free Speech Issues
for the Washington Office of the American Civil Liberties Union and the
mother
of a teen-age daughter. Her comments were excerpted from an op-ed article in
the Oct. 12, 1997,
Washington Times. Posted by permission from
the
Washington Times.)


Because I work on First Amendment issues for the American Civil Liberties
Union, some people are surprised when I tell them that in my own home, I
have
been a censor. That's because I have another job that I consider even more
important and sometimes a lot tougher: I am a parent.


I am concerned about my daughter watching and listening to film and music
with
violence and degrading attitudes towards women. And I am also concerned
about
programs whose main focus is on depicting a promiscuous lifestyle for young
people, with stereotypes which send children of color the message that
status
and success are the birthrights of others.


But as I see it, raising moral children is achieved not by attempting to
screen out the temptations and evils of the world — an approach doomed to
failure — but by teaching values that put those things in perspective.


Yes, I have been a censor. And I have learned that censorship is most
effective only when children are very small — when they are too young to
analyze and process the images they are seeing. Later on, however,
censorship
is less practical. As children reach school age they become more mobile and
generally harder to monitor. And by the time they enter into their teen-age
years, their ability to reach influential images and sounds makes censoring
an
impossible task.


What is a concerned parent to do? Many have hailed the V-chip as the answer
to these complex problems. [They] have tuned out the First Amendment
implications of the V-chip debate. They have concluded that there is an
unacceptable level of violence
on the small screen and that something must be done to protect children. As
a
defender of the First Amendment, I see the V-chip … as coming dangerously
close to government censorship.


But even if I believed damage done by violent programming outweighs the
evils
of government-imposed censorship, there is another good reason to reject the
V-chip. It's bad for parenting! Widespread reliance on the V-chip will
thwart our efforts to teach the kind of values that we want for our kids.


The V-chip is attractive to politicians and to some parents because it seems
easy. What could be easier than simply blocking out objectionable images or
ideas? Indeed, there are times when we as parents must act as censors. But
the answer is not to teach our children that morals and values can be
instilled with the push of a button.


When we use “point-and-click” technology to parent, we teach values in only
the remotest sense (no pun intended). Real value lessons come from
discussions, from living by example, and from doing the hard work in family
life that enables us to set sensible rules that are internalized by our
children. If we do the work to build the right foundation, they — and
we –
won't need the electronic “thought police.”


The “point-and-click” method of child-rearing is simply not good enough for
our nation's children. Technology can never be a substitute for
old-fashioned
limit-setting and the inevitable struggles and discussions that ensue. It
would be great if someone would invent a device that turns OFF the TV or
radio until the homework is done or the room is clean — as well as when the
programming is personally objectionable. But this “device” already
exists — it's called parental involvement and there is no easy
technological
substitute for it.