Report: TV Ratings System Downplays Sex, Violence, Smoking

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

A new study recently published in the journal Pediatrics suggests that the TV rating system currently in place in the United States is inaccurate and does not always reflect the true amount of violence, smoking, and drinking occurring in television shows.

The study found TV Parental Guidelines ratings to be ineffective in three out of the four behaviors studied.  In addition, at least one risk factor was noted in every show, including shows for children as young as seven.

In all, researchers looked at 17 TV shows for instances of violence, sexual behavior, alcohol use, and smoking.  Findings suggest shows that held a rating of TV-Y7, intended for children age seven or older, had similar levels of violence as shows rated TV-MA, meant for mature audiences only.

“From prior research, we know that youth between 8 and 18 years consume, on average, 7.5 hours a day of media content,” said Joy Gabrielli, lead author of the study and a clinical child psychologist at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

Gabrielli added that young children and teens watch shows on televisions as well as on additional forms of digital media, such as telephones and tablets.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 mandated the creation of a TV rating system and a hardware, or V-chip, that would allow parents to block any questionable content.  As a result, the TV Parental Guidelines were created in addition to a monitoring board to ensure accuracy, uniformity, and consistency of the guidelines, reports Susan Scutti for CNN.

Violence was found in 70% of all episodes looked at for at least 2.3 seconds per episode minute.  Meanwhile alcohol was seen in 58% of episodes for 2.3 seconds per minute, sexual behavior in 53% of shows for 0.26 seconds per minute, and smoking in 31% of shows for 0.54 seconds per minute.

Shows rated TV-Y7 were found to show significantly less substance abuse.  However, other rating categories did not discriminate substance use as well, which was seen as much in shows rated TV-14 as they were in shows rated TV-MA.

TV ratings were found to be the most effective for sexual behavior and gory violence.

A separate study from 2015 discovered a connection between media violence exposure and physical aggression in children.  Lead author Dr. Tumaini Coker of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA said the connection grew stronger the more exposure children received.  However, the study did not consider a cause-and-effect relationship between the two, meaning that any aggression seen could have come from another source.

Study authors say additional research is needed due to the limited amount of shows looked at for this study as well as the limited scope of ratings systems observed.  They say that continued monitoring of the guidelines is necessary.  In addition, they suggest exploration by alternate media firms.

The authors also say that parents should be mindful of what their children are watching and be open in their conversations about media and risky behaviors as much as possible.

Missi Tessier, spokeswoman for the executive secretariat of the TV Parental Guidelines Monitoring Board, responded to the study by saying, “some 96% of parents polled said they were satisfied with the accuracy of the parental ratings for shows on television.”