WASHINGTON -- Parents say they are using TV ratings to help decide what their children can watch but many can't even name any of the ratings used for shows, a survey finds.
Since Oct. 1., when ABC, CBS, Fox and most cable networks began using new detailed TV ratings, the letters "V," "S," "L" and "D" have been showing up on TV screens alongside age-based ratings, such as "TV-PG" (parental guidance suggested) and "TV-14" (may be unsuitable for children under 14). The letters stand for violence, sex, crude language and suggestive dialogue.
Fifty-four percent of parents surveyed said they had used the ratings, while 46 percent said they had not, said the poll released at a news conference Wednesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation, a California research group interested in entertainment's impact on society.
"It speaks to how concerned America's parents have been, how concerned they continue to be with what they believe is their need to begin to take greater control of their children's television," said Don Roberts, a Stanford University communications professor.
Kaiser's findings conflicted with an Associated Press poll, conducted in February, that found parents widely ignored the ratings. In that poll, seven in 10 adults say they paid little or no attention to the ratings. Even in homes with children, 51 percent of parents paid little or no attention.
The Kaiser survey, meanwhile, found that parents didn't have a good understanding of what some ratings meant, particularly ratings specifically designed for children's shows.
Those ratings are: "TV-Y" (appropriate for all children) and "TV-Y7" (suitable for children older than 7). Shows with those ratings also may carry the notation "FV," which stands for fantasy violence.
Fifty-one percent of parents failed to name even one of the ratings for children's shows, 17 percent could name one, while 13 percent said they could but gave the wrong answers. Eighteen percent weren't aware of the ratings and 1 percent refused to answer.
Similarly, 76 percent of the parents did not know what the notation "D" stands for and 65 percent didn't know what "FV" meant.
"The mere fact that we have half of the parents even using it at this point in time, this early in the stage of the ratings, is a significant step," said Virginia Markell, president-elect of the National PTA, which pushed for the more detailed ratings. "We are now incumbent as child advocates to spend some time getting parents educated."
Vice President Al Gore urged parents to use the TV ratings and eventually v-chip blocking technology to try to reduce violent behavior in youngsters.
"Of course the recent tragic incidents of children shooting children give us ever more urgent cause for concern," Gore said. "We must explore every option that might help prevent violence by children and that includes limiting children's exposure to television violence. To be more specific, helping parents to limit their own children's exposure to television violence."
The telephone survey conducted April 2-26 by Princeton Survey Research Associates involved 1,358 parents of children ages 2-17. The margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points. Another survey of 446 children ages 10-17 had a margin or error of plus or minus 5 percentage points.
The ratings are designed to work with blocking technology, dubbed the v-chip, that will let viewers block shows based on their ratings for sexual content, violence and objectionable language. V-chips will be installed in new TV sets and other devices.
Forty-five percent of parents polled said they were "not at all likely" in the next two years to buy either a new TV set or a set-top box containing the v-chip. Twenty-four percent said they were "not too likely" to make such purchases.
Meanwhile, 17 percent responded that they were "somewhat likely" to buy them, and 12 percent said they were "very likely."
But if they had a v-chip equipped TV set, 65 percent of parents polled said they would use it to block some shows, 31 percent said they wouldn't.
In a companion poll of children ages 10 to 17, some 61 percent said that if their parents blocked certain shows, they would not try to find a way to watch the shows anyway. Thirty-five percent said they would.