LOS ANGELES – Parents rely more on television ratings and less on the high-tech "V-chip" to choose the shows their children watch, according to a survey released Tuesday.
While 40 percent of American families own a TV set with a V-chip installed to block designated programs with sex or violence, only 17 percent of those parents use the device, the Kaiser Family Foundation survey found.
That means just 7 percent of all parents have relied on the V-chip, according to the survey. In comparison, more than half of all parents have used TV ratings.
"A year and a half after its introduction, the V-chip is being used by a small minority of parents," said foundation president Drew Altman. "TV ratings are more of a mainstream resource for concerned moms and dads."
Most parents, more than four out of five, were concerned that their children are being exposed to too much sex and violence on TV and believed that children's behavior is affected by it, the survey found.
But they were evenly divided over whether government should intervene in TV content.
More than half of parents (53 percent) who bought television sets after V-chips became standard equipment in January 2000 do not know their set includes one, the survey found.
Among parents aware of the option, about one in three (36 percent) has programmed it to prevent children from watching certain shows, according to the survey from the independent foundation, which analyzes health issues.
Increasing criticism of TV fare in the 1990s led to implementation of the V-chip and the ratings system. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 required all new TV sets to contain a V-chip.
To use the chip, parents must activate and program it.
The 56 percent of parents who say they have used the TV ratings system for their children is similar to the proportion who say they use parental advisories on music (50 percent) and video and computer games (59 percent).
Movie ratings, the Kaiser Foundation noted, are used by 84 percent of parents.
Most parents (92 percent) who have consulted TV ratings find them useful, similar to satisfaction levels with other kinds of ratings.
But 40 percent of the parents surveyed said shows are not being rated in a way that accurately reflects their content.
Rating designations include TV-Y7 for children 7 and older, TV-14 for children 14 and older, FV for fantasy violence, V for violence and D for suggestive dialogue.
Nearly half of parents, 48 percent, say they believe that exposure to sexual content on TV contributes "a lot" to children's early sexual involvement, while 47 percent of parents surveyed think children's exposure to violence on TV contributes "a lot" to violent behavior.
Parents are divided about whether government should regulate TV content. About half of all parents (48 percent) favor and about half (47 percent) oppose new government regulations to limit violence and sex in TV shows during the early evening hours.
"American parents are clearly worried about what their children are watching and how it affects them" but don't agree on how to restrict unwanted programming, said Victoria Rideout, vice president and director of the foundation's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health.
The survey of 800 parents of children ages 2-17 was conducted in May and June. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points for the total survey and plus or minus 6 percentage points for parents of children ages 2-6.
The foundation is a national health philanthropy unconnected with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.