CORRECTED AND UPDATED: 4/25/11
“CABLE IS DEAD!”
That was the headline I read last week while traveling. The accompanying article discussed the growing trend of people dropping cable/satellite service and switching to Internet-based services such as Hulu, Netflix, and others. These services offer customers the ability to stream TV shows and movies from the Internet to their TV using various “boxes” such as ROKU, the Wii, X-BOX, PS3, and “Internet-capable” DVD and TV systems. In addition to streaming to TV sets, these services also provide the ability to stream content directly to computers and portable devices such as iPhones, iPads, tablets, cellphones, and more.
Up until recently (like, yesterday, 3/19/2011) these services only offered TV shows after they were available on their original broadcast channels. But, in a major move, Netflix on 3/19/2011 announced that it was entering the realm of “original programming”. And, let’s face it: In this market, Netflix is “The Big Dog!”
This means that the trend of shifting to Internet-based “TV” will probably accelerate.
Just as with the Internet and World Wide Web these services bring new dangers to families, especially to children, directly into the living room. These dangers include explicit violence and sexual content.
Now, I must start off by confessing that I positively LOVE Netflix! When my wife wants to watch one of “her” shows (usually involving dead bodies, autopsies, etc.) and the kids are down on the family TV, I can just pick up my laptop or, even better, my iPad, and watch “my” TV shows and movies (new or classic). In fact, I’m writing this while on a 3-week trip to Maryland where the home I’m staying in only has Internet-based TV. I just hook into the host’s WiFi (with permission, of course) and enjoy my shows on my devices via my Netflix account. (I am currently watching the “new” Battlestar Galactica.)
So, let’s look at what Netflix is, and what concerns parents should have.
First off, Netflix offers both DVD rentals (by mail) and instant Internet streaming of both TV shows and movies. Netflix has a HUGE library of old and new movies and TV shows. The genres include, but are not limited to:
• Children & Family
• Faith & Spirituality
• Music & Musicals
There are also genres that may concern parents, especially those wishing to guide their children’s viewing of what they consider “objectionable” or “age-inappropriate” material. These include:
• Gay & Lesbian
• Special Interest
The problem is that Netflix hosted programs and movies run the gamut from “RATED-G” to TV-MA/NC-17. Some shows have the “NR” code which stands for “Not Rated”. (An “NR” title is not necessarily bad as old shows, documentaries, and movies never-before-rated receive this code, as well as some “mature” titles.). This is not only a factor with movies but also with “made-for-cable” TV Shows, such as WEEDS, THE TUDORS, and the SPARTACUS series, to name just a few. Many of the more mature-rated programs have explicit sex and/or violence that is inappropriate for children and (in many minds) for adults as well.
NOTE: Netflix does NOT offer hardcore pornography (X, XXX ratings), although many titles could be considered softcore pornography (rated R, NC-17, TV-MA, etc.). Some titles, such as LAST TANGO IN PARIS, were once rated “X” but now have been re-designated NC-17. This could change, but as of this date such is the case.
Now, to Netflix’s credit, many of the “mature” movies are not available for streaming and must be obtained via DVD, but there is still a large enough cataloge of violent and sexually explicit titles available for “instant viewing” that parents need to watch out. Plus, there is no guarantee that the market won’t lead Netflix to move more adult-oriented titles to the streaming side, although I would not expect this to happen, and hope it does not.
CORRECTION to earlier version:
Netflix has effective parental controls that prevent the playing/ordering of movies and TV shows that exceed the parent’s desired rating. These limits are set via web and the account settings. Testing for this article was done using an established account and only streaming devices. The account set-up, ordering process, and web interface, including account options, were omitted from the investigation,and I will take responsibility. My sincere apologies to the entire Netflix team
for the earlier claim that there were no parental controls. (4/25/11)
Even with parental controls, you still have full access to the entire catalog, regardless of rating, with DVD cover graphics and text descriptions. This could present a problem for parents as it provides children with access, at least in the catalog, to titles, text, and some imagery that might be inappropriate. Of course, this is a problem at the Public Library, online shopping web sites, the local book store, and the check out stand at the local grocery store, too.
So, what does a parent do?
First off, parents who bring Netflix streaming into the home need to talk to their children about what is acceptable and what is not. This can happen concurrently with the talk about acceptable Internet use (web, phone, and otherwise). Regardless of technology helps (filters, parental controls, etc.) the best defense is to educate and equip children/youth to maintain proper boundaries and report when they may have been breached. This not only deals with TV and Internet materials, but is useful at the above mentioned library, book stores, etc. and later on in high school and college. Getting children, especially pre-teens and teens, to guard their hearts and their eyes, is a huge factor.
Second, parents need to log on to Netflix, on a computer, and set the parental controls at the desired level. Netflix’s system will ask for the password before allowing a more mature-rated disk to be queued or a movie viewed instantly. For this reason children, including teens, should never be given the account’s master password. Otherwise the parental controls just won’t work.
Third, parents should log on to Netflix, again on the computer, to regularly see what has been watched. R, NR, and NC-17 media are not the only products that may produce questions or problems. You may have the setting on PG-13 but still have far younger children in the home. Monitoring what has been viewed instantly is easily done. Here is how:
1. Click on the WATCH INSTANTLY tab at the top of the Netflix screen, as shown below.
2. Then, under the You recently watched: line, click on SEE ALL, as shown above.
3. Then, examine the list (such as the one, below) to see what has been watched. Note that the list also shows you how much of the movie was watched, which is very useful if a child/teen claims they “accidentally” clicked on an inappropriate movie.
4. If a lot of titles have been watched, then scroll to the bottom and click on the COMPLETE LIST button.
Hopefully parents are aware of what is rented via the mail. But, if they need to check, they can click in the upper right on YOUR ACCOUNT and then SEE ALL DVD SHIPPING ACTIVITY, and a list of what has been sent will be provided.
Fourth, children, including teens, should not be allowed to have Netflix-capable devices in their rooms, just as they should not have Internet-capable devices in their rooms. at least, if they DO have the devices they should not have them set up to stream media. Netflix streaming should be restricted to devices in public areas of the house. This is not only due to content, but also out of concern that children spend too much time watching TV, or staying up late (sort of the 21st Century version of staying up late, reading a good book with a flashlight, under the covers).
Last, children should NEVER have their own Netflix account, nor should they have access to the parent’s Netflix password. While they can navigate to the ACCOUNT settings, they cannot make changes to the ratings without typing in the current password. Keep in mind that the password should not be simple or easy for them to figure out! Nor should you ask the computer to remember the password, although my tests indicate that Netflix will not accept a stored password entry. With younger teens/pre-teens it may also be good to be aware of their device settings to make sure they aren’t going around Mom and Dad’s account, somehow (kids can be creative), possibly with a trail account or someone else’s account.
Even with the Netflix Parental Controls it is important for parents to realize that they are not a perfect, 100% solution. If they normally have the settings at PG-13 and change them to allow viewing an R-rated movie there can be an 8-hour time-delay between the parents viewing a more adult movie (rated R and up) and when the children will be protected again after the settings have been reset. Another related, although lower probability, vulnerability is if children/youth are using Netflix while Mom and Dad are watching the R/NR-rated title on a different TV/device. Since the entire account is controlled, even on multiple devices, the kids could, conceivably, have access to the more mature titles during that time.
Bottom line: Netflix provides a lot of entertainment for the dollar, and the parental controls, while not perfect, are very effective and easy to use. I love it as a service, and am considering killing my cable TV and going to NETFLIX only.
APPEAL TO NETFLIX
Thank you for the ability to control access. If you would consider taking the same
process used to approve adding “higher rated” titles to the shipping queue and apply it
to the VIEW INSTANTLY and ADD TO INSTANT QUEUE processes it would eliminate
the vulnerabilities, above. It would also be nice, as a parent, to set the limits based upon
the device (DVD player, iPod, etc.) and not have a single blanket setting for the entire account.
Television, and other media, are changing. We, as parents, must change and adapt to deal with the new threats to our children’s moral and emotional development. Avoiding technologies is not the answer because we may hamstring our children when they are older. Instead, it is best for Christian parents to teach and guide children in the proper uses of technology, and caution, protect, and equip them from the evil that comes from misuse of these very same technologies.
What are your thoughts? How will YOU manage access in your home?
Share your ideas by leaving a comment!
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