Making Sure Your Shields Aren’t Down
I’m not what you would call a "Trekkie," but I must admit to enjoying many of the older Star Trek films, when (in my opinion) the franchise hit its peak. Way back in the 1980s, Captain Kirk was king, and in The Wrath of Khan, he showed how he could outsmart any space pirate after taking down the shields of an attacking ship, pirated by Kahn. Little did the opposing bad guy know that a single code would render his defenses useless.
In that same way, little do most parents know that a similar numeric entry can blast open the filtering systems on their televisions and DVD players.
(First, I must explain that I am purposely writing this article in a way to avoid the use of keyword terms that will allow people to easily find this information. I don't want to be yet another source of Internet instructions that will open the controls on televisions that have been set by thoughtful parents. So you won't hear the word v*c*h*i*p in this article again, even though that's what we're talking about. And please excuse what may appear to be strange English, as I attempt to find alternate words to describe the devices.)
On a few websites, "helpful" writers have exposed a little known secret: That nearly every television manufacturer has a way of trashing their program filter settings in case the owner of the TV can't recall the combination he or she entered when the television was purchased. It also comes in handy if you have bought a used television that still has a combination set within it.
Unfortunately, a scheming child with a little Google savvy can also get his or her hands on this information. On some sets it's a particular code, while on others a sequence of button pushes will reset all the menu settings. This "key under the doormat" loophole is a cruel irony considering so few TV sets have child-viewing devices enabled in the first place.
What can you do about this? Not much, except to check your TV on a regular basis--especially if you suspect your children are watching programs that are usually more mature than what you thought the TV should be passing through. This can be accomplished doing a little channel surfing and noting the ratings on the shows. (Most televisions display this information when you change channels.) If you can see programs with ratings that you think should be blocked, your shields may be down.
Your other alternative is to head into those reams of menus and check your settings. Make sure the combination you entered still will unlock the control features. If it doesn't, it has been changed. Or, you may discover the device has been turned off completely.
Of course, you must also remember what is the greatest hole in the TV content management system: Many networks only show the rating on the screen, and they don't actually encode the information into the signal so your television will know not to show it to your kids. (For more information about this issue, see the Parent Television Council's Report on Television Ratings [http://www.parentstv.org/ptc/publications/reports/tvratings2005/study.pdf].
Even less people have set the content screens on their DVD players, satellite receivers, and Xbox game consoles. However, if you are one of the few who has, keep an eye on those devices as well. I found instructions to counteract many brands of each of these media players.
Does it feel like media war some days? With broadcasters pushing indecency to new levels on public airwaves, and cable companies retaliating at the idea of having to modify basic cable packages to avoid channels with high levels of programming unsuitable for children, the defensive front line is squarely set in your family room. Considering what few tools we can use to monitor incoming media missiles, we must make sure they are activated and working. "Shields up, Captain!"
If you are looking for more information on this topic, check Television Ratings--Time to Change the Program [http://www.parentstv.org/ptc/publications/rgcolumns/2005/0515.asp].