July 6, 1995 in Features

Technological Limits New Products Help Parents Restrict What Children See On TV, The Internet

Melinda Bargreen Seattle Times
 

It’s that time of year again. Your kids are home from school - with or without a sitter, a job mowing lawns and an improving educational program that will teach them Japanese and calculus at the same time.

But you know what they are really doing, every chance they get, as soon as they rouse themselves out of bed at noon or so. They’re watching TV, playing video games and surfing the Internet.

While there’s nothing really wrong with any of those pastimes, most parents would like to set some kinds of limits on what kids see and do, whether the parents are home or not. That is why the wonderful world of electronics is coming up with devices such as TimeSlot and Intelevision, and programs such as SurfWatch.

Those inventions are the children of an unparalleled dilemma in First Amendment free-speech rights. The electronic era, through cable and satellite and on-line networks, has brought an explosion of choices into our homes, and an explosion of supervisory issues for parents.

No matter how firmly in favor of free-speech issues a parent might be, it’s clear to most parents that there’s a lot of stuff out there that’s unsuitable for children’s eyes. It’s equally clear that overinvolvement in on-line activities can lead to unhealthy fantasy relationships, leading to the stories of long-distance seduction and runaways that seem to be popping up everywhere in the news.

Ideally, of course, we parents should be helping children develop internal controls and a sense of responsibility that will help them moderate their access to electronics.

Right. And ideally we should all be limiting our own diets, getting enough exercise and foregoing tobacco, alcohol and controlled substances. We are a pretty selfindulgent nation, and it’s impossible to expect our children to be bastions of self-control when the adults aren’t.

So there is TimeSlot, a small slotted box that attaches to the TV and limits the number of hours (per day, week or month) the TV goes on. It also can block out certain viewing times entirely. The device is activated by a card resembling a credit card, which is zipped through the slot to turn the set on.

Once the viewing time is spent, the TV won’t turn on.

The good part about this is that parents don’t have to threaten, cajole, lecture or physically turn off the TV. TimeSlot does that for them. No wonder more than 10,000 units have been sold, for $99.95 (919-829-3525).

Competition, not surprisingly, is on the way, with a product called Intelevision, which uses a computer chip to block out any show you don’t want. (It’s not on sale yet, but is expected to go for about $189 later this year: 800-423-0216).

TimeSlot also is developing a similar device for your telephone, so your youngsters don’t run up long-distance bills with calls or on-line computer services.

It’s on-line services that are making many parents nervous these days, and that’s why there is likely to be a lot of interest in SurfWatch. This product ($49.95, 800-458-6600) blocks your computer’s access to certain information sites on the Internet that are unsuitable for kids - sites such as Playboy, Penthouse and the famous “alt.sex.” There are still a few loopholes; children who are expert computer hackers probably can still find their way around it. But at best, blocking software does allow parents to check some of the flow of explicit text and images that are rampant in some Net sites.

Along with the electronic aids to parental censorship, we all need to remember an important caveat: Whatever is being censored is going to be the hottest topic of your youngster’s curiosity.

Back in high school, one of our teachers got hundreds of kids to read Salinger’s comparatively mild novel “Catcher in the Rye” by proclaiming it a filthy shocker, prompting a run on all the bookstores and libraries.


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