May 28, 2024

Voluntary Filtering Works for Us

It’s day two of porn week here at Freedom to Tinker, and time to talk about the tools parents have to limit what their kids see. As a parent, I have not only an opinion, but also an actual household policy (set jointly with my wife, of course) on this topic.

Like most parents, we want to limit what our kid sees. The reason is not so much that there are things we want our kid never to see, but more that we don’t think our kid is ready, yet, to see and hear absolutely everything in the world. Even the Cookie Monster is scary to kids at a certain age. Good parents know what their kids can handle alone, and what their kids can handle with a trusted adult present. We want to expose our kid to certain things gradually. Some things should be seen for the first time with a parent present to talk about what is being depicted.

But how can we do this, in the real world? It’s not enough simply to say that we should supervise our kid. To watch a kid nonstop, 24/7, is not only impractical but creepy. We don’t want to turn our home into a surveillance state.

Instead, we rely on architecture. For example, we put the only kid-accessible computer and TV in the busiest room of the house so that we’re less likely to lose track of what’s happening. But even that isn’t foolproof – it doesn’t work in the early morning hours when kids tend to be up while parents sleep.

This is where filtering technology can help. We find the TV rating and filtering system quite useful, despite its obvious flaws. This system is often called the V-chip, but we don’t actually rely on the V-chip itself. Instead, we rely on our Tivo to allow restrict access to shows with certain ratings, unless a secret password has been entered. We know that the technology overblocks and underblocks. But overall, we prefer a policy of “watch any kid-rated show you want, but ask a parent if you want to watch anything else” to the alternatives of “watch anything you want” or “always ask a parent first”. (A welcome side-effect: by changing the rating threshold we can easily implement a “no TV today” policy.)

It’s worth noting that we don’t use the federally mandated V-chip, which is built into our TV. We simply use the ratings associated with shows, and the parental controls that Tivo included voluntarily in its product. For us, the federal V-chip regulation provided, at most, the benefit of speeding standardization of the rating system. We’re happy with a semi-accurate, voluntary system that saves us time but doesn’t try to override our own judgment.


  1. I don’t see the hypocrisy here. The costs of implementing the V-chip system are already sunk, and our use of the ratings doesn’t impose any extra cost on anybody. So where’s the harm?

  2. The Least Objectionable Content Labeling System

    Today I’ll wrap up Vice Week here at Freedom to Tinker with an entry on porn filtering. On Monday I agreed with the conventional wisdom that online porn regulation is a mess. On Tuesday I wrote about what my wife and I do in our home to control underag…

  3. You should be criticized for hypocritically bragging about not using the V-chip when you are relying on exactly the same functionality in your TiVo, which itself relies on the federally mandated rating system. The real problem with the V chip is that nobody uses it, and I doubt that a much greater percentage of people use whatever TiVo has for filtering. It’s just too much trouble. So you are in effect free riding off a cost which is imposed on all of us.

  4. You should be praised for using your own judgement in this sort of situation. It seems like federal regulators are far too eager to gain political points when they decide on these rating systems, which, as you say, suffer from massive generalizations of what is good vs. evil. But what is worse (scary even) is the parents who default to relying on such systems to “protect” their children. Why is it that wanting one’s children to explore the world, rather than be sheltered from it, seems to be “swimming upstream” in modern parental thinking?

    Anyway, go find some way to spread your wisdom, the next generation (which is right behind me) needs it.

  5. Dave Provine says

    Or you could just disallow television almost entirely, which would solve that one. Rare are the days that our kids can watch TV, and then it’s something like the Tour de France. Books, however, are freely available.

    For the internet, you could augment the filter with time-of-day restrictions, so there’s no waking up at 04:00 and browsing unsupervised. If they figure out how to bypass the filter though, be sure to reward the child’s ingenuity, especially if they do it by cracking SHA-1…

  6. Even the Cookie Monster is scary to kids at a certain age.

    But you are an open-minded, tolerant, person, who does not believe that the Cookie Monster is a Sesame Street plot to promote the Muppet Lifestyle.

    I am not making up the following:

    [begin real scary Jerry Falwell article]


    Tinky Winky Comes Out of the Closet

    The sexual preference of Tinky Winky, the largest of the four Teletubbies characters on the series that airs in America on PBS stations, has been the subject of debate since the series premiered in England in 1997.

    The character, whose voice is obviously that of a boy, has been found carrying a red purse in many episodes and has become a favorite character among gay groups worldwide.

    Now, further evidence that the creators of the series intend for Tinky Winky to be a gay role model have surfaced. He is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol.

    [end real scary Jerry Falwell article]

    And the point is, that in a society which has “PARENTS ALERT” like the above, there are many many people who will not be satisfied with “voluntary” measures against material they find threatening (though the above article does not call for censorship, I note it for the extremity of the mindset, to show how different is the thinking of some censorship-minded people).

  7. Yes, that would require significant rewiring due to our inordinately complicated home video setup.