'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire:' Is that educational TV?

Many parents are failing to use new tools designed to help them control their children's television viewing habits.

A new study shows that while 85 percent of parents say they're concerned about what their children watch, few can identify programming deemed educational or appropriate for children under federal regulations.

A 1996 law required all TV programs to be labeled with content ratings similar to movie ratings so the programs could be blocked by a "V-chip." The following year, federal regulators required local TV stations to air at least three hours of educational programming per week to qualify for expedited license review.

But while broadcasters have generally complied with the rules, the studies released Monday by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center find that 9 of 10 parents are not familiar with the ratings system. Many are similarly confused by what qualifies as educational programming.

Some describe shows such as "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and "Oprah" as educational. "Parents aren't aware of these policies, so it seems like not enough information has gotten out to parents," says Kelly Schmitt, a research fellow at the Annenberg Center.

She recommends a public-service campaign during prime-time or morning shows to explain the ratings system and educational programming. The studies also found:

*For the first time since 1996, more families with children have Internet connections than subscribe to newspapers.

*On average, children watch TV for nearly two and a half hours each day, and interact with all media for six and a half hours a day.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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