Monitoring Kids’ Media: TV & Streaming

Young, happy girl watches tv

If you’re still with us from last time, we talked about how video games might be different than you remember, and went over some resources you can use to try to keep up. This time, we’ll be talking about something you might be more familiar with: television.

Part 3: TV and Streaming

TV content ratings are old hat right? Everybody knows what the ratings are, what the content descriptors mean, and maybe if you read the manual that came with your service, how to restrict certain content.

Right. So, bear with me here.

Ratings Game

This site has a breakdown of the different ratings and content descriptors that you’ll find on most shows that air on major networks. It even comes with a handy graphic indicating how to read those weirdly arcane symbols that pop up in the corner of the screen.

Screen Shot 2015-06-10 at 2.08.16 PM


That’s all well and good, but like I said, you knew that already. You’re savvy. You grew up with TV, we all did. And some things never change. TV has been getting more graphic, more intense, and more adult than ever before. People have been complaining about this forever.

Getting In-depth

If you find yourself looking for a TV resource for parents, then there’s a good chance you can stumble upon some weird stuff (like I did).

For instance, these guys. They’re against just about every form of media you can imagine and have a real creepy Westboro Baptist Church vibe about them. It’s all very “sign wave-y, fist-in-the-air, not-in-my-backyard” type stuff that’s probably best avoided if you’re looking for a legitimate resource. There is some interesting (potentially skewed) stuff if you look at their “research” section, though you should tread lightly, and take everything with a grain of salt.

A much better resource is Control With Cable, which offers education about how to use your TV’s settings to restrict access, what channels offer kid-friendly or educational entertainment, and even how to stay safe online. They have tons of links for further reading, too. It’s worth digging around in, because it’s got a lot of great information and options for controlling TV and Internet access without having to watch over your kids’ shoulders.

Broadcast Is Dead

TV is going through a renaissance of sorts. A few years ago, television programming was somewhere high-paid Hollywood actors were rarely seen, where budgets were low, and shows were ultimately forgettable.

Now, there’s no shortage of great programming. It’s on par with feature film, and in some cases, even exceeds it in its ability to tell a story. As a result of the medium expanding, shows are pushing boundaries more, and attracting a more grown-up audience.

The real problem now is that nobody watches TV on TV anymore. The only time I catch an actual broadcast is when Game of Thrones is on, and only because it’s something of a ritual now. Truth be told, I watch it through HBO GO, refreshing like a madman at 9pm EST until it goes live. So, I’m really streaming it, anyway.

And that’s how more and more people are getting their TV today. There are fewer people tuning into broadcasts and more people watching on Netflix, Amazon Instant Video, Hulu, and a plethora of other services, not to mention the On-Demand options through the service providers themselves. And with those aforementioned streaming services, you can watch them on just about any device you have. Laptops, phones, tablets, even video game consoles come enabled with just about every video on demand service.

The best way to combat an issue like this is prevention. Parental controls are available on most of these services. This way, you can restrict content by rating, so your kids have to ask you to unlock the account before they can watch something outside the safe ratings you set. Here are the instructions pages for a few services:

(*Hulu doesn’t offer parental controls writ large quite yet, but offers alternative steps to block adult content)

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find a really objective resource like Kids In Mind that focused on television and streaming, but a site I mentioned in the first article of this series called Common Sense Media does a perfectly serviceable job, provided you’re willing to sift through a review, rather than a trim analysis.

Poking around, I also found that they have some great FAQs and articles regarding all kinds of issues involving kids and media, entertainment, and new communications. It’s all under their Parent Concerns section, if you want to take a look.


Kids ingest a ton of media. It’s something of an inescapable fact of modern parenting. Sometimes you might feel like you’re drowning in the amount of media your kids are consuming, and that’s normal. If it gets to be too much, consider taking a day of media detox once a month, biweekly, or even weekly. Even if you’ve got to start at a half day for yourself, it can be good to get away from it for a little while. Make your day Saturday or Sunday so you can plan a family trip.

But when media’s not escapable, it’s most important to stay informed. The only way your kids are going to get into things that aren’t appropriate for them is if you’re not paying attention to what’s going on.

On top of that, talking to your kids about what they’re watching is important, too. If they feel like you’re involved, they’ll be more likely to come to you with things they don’t understand, or when something difficult comes up. There are so many reasons why your kids wouldn’t think to start that conversation, so you have to create an open, safe dialogue for them.

If I’m reiterating, it’s because I can’t overstate how important these two ideas are.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series on kids and popular entertainment. If you have any suggestions for future posts, or you just want to join in on the conversation, leave a comment below.

Thanks for reading.

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