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Parental Controls: Out of Control
 

Parental Controls: Out of Control

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It takes a lot of effort to protect our kids. Innovations in technology and entertainment have introduced new challenges for parents, which extend far beyond “child-proofing” the medicine cabinet. ...

It takes a lot of effort to protect our kids. Innovations in technology and entertainment have introduced new challenges for parents, which extend far beyond “child-proofing” the medicine cabinet. For example, gaming is now interactive via the Internet, calling into question, not only the game, but also the other gamers. Movies, music, and videos are also accessible on televisions, computers, and even phones. Questionable content is a click away.

The responsibility of protecting your children can seem overwhelming. Therefore, when an adult actively attempts to use parental controls, the process should be simple and success should be guaranteed. However, a great deal of preparation is actually needed to properly activate these controls. We are
sharing these results with you so that you can easily pinpoint crucial areas where you must be especially cautious. Parental
controls are only valuable if you know how to make them work.

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    Parental Controls: Out of Control Parental Controls: Out of Control Document Transcript

    • Parental Controls: Out of Control It takes a lot of effort to protect our kids. Innovations in technology and entertainment have introduced new challenges for parents, which extend far beyond “child-proofing” the medicine cabinet. For example, gaming is now interactive via the Internet, calling into question, not only the game, but also the other gamers. Movies, music, and videos are also accessible on televisions, computers, and even phones. Questionable content is a click away. The responsibility of protecting your children can seem Don’t be one of the many who are overwhelming. Therefore, when an adult actively attempts to use unaware parental controls, the process should be simple and success should be guaranteed. However, a great deal of preparation is Awareness of technology in today's actually needed to properly activate these controls. We are world is half the battle to sharing these results with you so that you can easily pinpoint succeeding with it–the more one crucial areas where you must be especially cautious. Parental knows about something, the controls are only valuable if you know how to make them work. better able one is to use it. The same applies to parental controls, The study including the various ratings systems used by television and Our research with 20 pairs of children and their parents (40 gaming systems. people total) explored such issues as: • Determining awareness of existing parental control For instance, the parental technology guidance rating system used by • Assessing confidence in setting parental controls for the V-chip and shown on all of the each device major networks is composed of • Restricting children from inappropriately rated content seven individual ratings. In this • Preventing strangers from contacting your child without study, 80% of parents and 70% of permission children were aware of this TV • Pinpointing the usability of setting parental controls ratings system. However, this awareness seems to The study included these devices and systems: be limited to a very basic • The V-chip (a small chip embedded into television sets understanding – actual knowledge since 2001 that blocks programming based on parental of the descriptions of each rating guidance ratings encoded in broadcast signals) is much more limited, hovering around 40% at best. Only by • TiVo (a digital video recording service that allows understanding these descriptors users to schedule and watch shows they have recorded) will parents be able to determine • Xbox 360 gaming system (the Xbox 360 has two sets of the levels of violence, language or parental controls: Console controls to block games and sexuality that children are exposed movies, and Xbox Live controls to restrict online to. Yet, most of the people in our gaming and communication with others) study had no practical • Firefly (a mobile phone aimed at grade-schoolers; understanding of their meaning. parental controls on the Firefly can be set up to restrict outgoing and incoming calls) If parents and guardians are to be successful in setting proper Our user research specialists spent 75 minutes with each parent controls for those in their and child, walking them through a series of tasks for each supervision, it is not enough to be device. These tasks were specially designed to determine the aware of either of these ratings ease of use of the devices. systems. Parents must actively learn the descriptors for each In this article, we will take a look at some of our findings and let system because only then will they you know what you need to do to make sure that you can set the have a chance of ensuring parental controls on these devices with the assurance that they protection from harmful content. are working effectively. 1
    • How easy is it to set up parental controls? First and foremost, our research indicates that parents need to spend the time to learn how to set up parental controls. Participants in this study struggled not only with the various screens when setting up these controls, but also with the model for the ratings systems in place (see sidebar). The graph below shows the average failure rates for parents and for children on each device. These numbers make it clear that most are not able to achieve these tasks easily on their own. Adults who are serious about protecting young people in their care need to dedicate the time to learning more by reading the manuals that come with each device, or researching the device and its controls online. When you set up parental controls, it is also important to carefully read the on-screen directions. Sometimes, these might be clearer than what you will find in a manual or online. Additionally, once you have learned about how to set these controls, it is also a necessity to confirm that they are properly activated. Many participants in our study believed that they had successfully set up controls when in fact they had not; the children in their care would have been left inadvertently vulnerable to questionable content. How much difference is there between you and your kids? One of society’s widely-held beliefs is that children are much more technology savvy than parents. After all, between work and managing the family’s day-to-day affairs, what parent has the time to experiment with the latest gizmo from Best Buy or Toys ‘R’ Us? Results from our study challenge this myth and show that for the most part, there is no difference in how parents and children set up parental controls. No device drives this point home more clearly than the Xbox 360, Microsoft’s gaming console, which in addition to games also plays movies and allows for online gaming and communication between gamers across the world. As you can see in the graph above, the failure rates for both groups were almost equal, with 45% of parents and 49% of children failing to set up its various parental controls. The same point is true for the Firefly mobile Overall Device Failure Rates phone, which has parental controls that 100% allow you to restrict a child’s contact with 90% other individuals who 80% are not approved by the parent or guardian. Both 70% groups performed Percent Failure 60% equally poorly with this Parent device: 34% of parents 50% and 39% of children Child failed to successfully set 40% up its controls. 30% So, while common 20% wisdom would seem to 10% say that kids who can program a VCR long 0% before any adult should V-Chip TiVo Xbox 360 Firefly be able to master these Device controls with ease, this 2
    • simply is not the case. Still, guardians need to become experts in the technology to be certain that they are prepared for any scenario. Confidence can be misplaced Usually, technology lets us know when we mess up. Have you ever tried to close a program on a computer that was not finished saving your most recent changes to disk? Typically, an on-screen message pops up to warn us that there will be serious consequences if we do not let the program “finish its business” first. Unfortunately, there are no alert mechanisms in place with the majority of parental controls, which means parents might think they have set up the controls correctly, when in actuality, they have not. A clear illustration of this point once again comes from the Xbox 360. For the console controls, a large portion of parents (70%) and children (65%) felt confident that they had successfully put them in place. However, 42% of parents and 57% of children failed! How could our participants be confident that they set up the console controls when so many failed? Simple: Nobody knew they had failed to set up the parental controls! Xbox 360 Console Controls: Failure Rates vs. Confidence Rates 100% 90% Percentage of Participants 80% 70% 60% Failure 50% Confidence 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Parent Child Participant Group The same thing happened, however, when we asked participants how confident they were that they successfully programmed the Xbox Live parental controls. Setting up these controls is a lengthy process with many places for potential error and very little confirmation of correct action. Once again, the majority of parents (65%) and children (75%) were confident that they successfully set up the Xbox Live controls. However, 67% of parents and 40% of children failed to set up the Xbox Live parental controls. 3
    • Xbox Live Parental Controls: Failure Rates vs. Confidence Rates 100% Percentage of Participants 90% 80% 70% 60% Failure 50% Confidence 40% 30% 20% 10% 0% Parent Child Participant Group If the Xbox 360 gave better clues as to whether the parental controls were set up correctly, people might have had a different view of their abilities and not been so confident in the successes of their actions. Over- confidence can lead to complacency; this finding further stresses the need for parents to educate themselves in order to avoid potential pitfalls in the setup process. Conclusion What do such results say about the devices and the people who use them? While these devices and their parental control features are useful, they are not usable. There are wonderful tools at our disposal, but many of us cannot adjust them “out of the box” so that they are also safe for kids to use. What’s more, there are no parental controls that can’t be circumvented or revealed by some clever searching on the Internet. Parental controls have to act as an effective supplement – not a replacement – for parental supervision. Our comparison of high confidence ratings with actual success rates presents another worrisome fact: People are often unaware when they have failed to properly set up these controls. Ultimately, society should take these results as a warning: We are not doing as good of a job at protecting our children as we might think. However, technology should not be discarded simply because it can be dangerous. Adults who educate themselves in advance on how to use these parental controls are much more likely to succeed. These controls are designed to act as safeguards – and they can – as long as we understand that there is a learning curve involved in ensuring that they do. It is our hope that the controls for each of the devices and systems described in this article will become more user friendly with each new release. But as parents and guardians of today’s youth, we simply cannot afford to wait until this happens. We need to be sure we take the extra time necessary to learn about such things as the ratings systems and potential pitfalls in the process; it is only through this additional effort that we can be sure that those in our care are not inadvertently exposed to inappropriate content. 4
    • TV Ratings ESRB Ratings All Children: This programming is appropriate for children of any age, yet is Early Childhood: Videogames with this geared specifically toward children between the rating contain no inappropriate content and ages of 2 to 7 years old. are playable by children ages 3 and above. Directed to Older Children: Programming bearing this rating is appropriate Everyone: These videogames are for children ages 7 and above. appropriate for children ages 6 and older. Children- Directed to Older Children-Fantasy Violence: Appropriate for children ages 7 and Everyone 10+: Videogames rated as above, this programming contains mild violence E10+ are suitable for children 10 years of age that would not be possible in the real world. and older. Teen: Teen-rated videogames are General Audience: Programming with appropriate for children age 13 years and this rating is appropriate for a wide audience. older. Parental Guidance Suggested: Parents should definitely consider watching this Mature: These videogames are programming with their children as they might appropriate for ages 17 and above. Its content find some content objectionable. could contain intense violence and strong language.. Parents Strongly Cautioned: Content in programming bearing this rating is inappropriate for children 14 years old or Adults Only: Definitely inappropriate for younger. children of any age. Mature Audience Only: This Rating Pending: Games with this rating programming is definitely unsuitable for are awaiting a final decision from the ESRB on children younger than 17 years old. which rating it will receive. Further information can be found at: Further information on ESRB ratings can be http://www.tvguidelines.org/ratings.asp found at: http://www.esrb.org/ratings/ratings_guide.jsp 5