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THE long-established 9pm watershed remains parents' main means of controlling their children's television viewing, according to qualitative research published on September 26.
Awareness of the watershed in family homes is very high, and its purpose is both understood and valued by parents, especially parents of younger children.
The research commissioned by the BBC, the Broadcasting Standards Commission (BSC) and the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and carried out by Simons Priest & Associates suggests that parents are most concerned to restrict the viewing of pre-school and primary school aged children, and that many believe that children of secondary school age are fast becoming adults, when different standards apply.
‘Viewers and Family Viewing Policy’ was commissioned to assess the role of the watershed and family viewing policy, and its relevance in the changing media environment. It was a small-scale, qualitative piece of research and whilst the findings are suggestive, they cannot be generalised to the whole population in statistical terms.
The research looked at single parent families and children in homes with multi-channel and terrestrial-only television.
The findings suggest that while most parents have a generally positive attitude towards the growth of technology within the home, they recognise that this makes controlling their children's viewing more difficult. They often lack knowledge of some of the newer technology which might help them to control their children's use of media (e.g. blocks on pay-tv, internet filters) and are not confident about using such devices.
A range of different ways of restricting children's viewing were given by parents, both direct (bans on particular programmes, or telling children to cover their eyes during sex scenes, for example) and indirect (no viewing before homework; bedtimes which preclude post-watershed viewing). However, several parents also pointed out that potentially 'difficult' material could be a useful way to initiate conversations with their children on, for example, social and sexual issues, rather than leaving children to rely on information from their peers at school.
Several concerns about different aspects of children's media consumption, and increasing independence, were expressed during the course of the research, including the recurring tension between wanting children to be aware but not to lose their innocence too early.
This concern rarely translated into formal control of older children's media consumption. The absence of such controls was associated with a positive – or occasionally resigned – attitude toward children's autonomy, and in their ability to make their own media choices. To some extent, this attitude was supported by children's responses: younger children chose not to watch programmes which did not appeal to them, such as those intended for an older audience, and older children often showed a protective attitude towards their younger siblings' viewing. (CD)
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