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Who Needs Parental Controls PFF

Who Needs Parental Controls PFF

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Published by Adam Thierer
In this piece, I address the argument made by some media and Internet critics who say that government intervention (perhaps even censorship) may be necessary because parental control technologies are not widely utilized by most Americans. But, as I note in the paper, the question that these critics always fail to ask is: How many homes really need parental control technologies? The answer: Far fewer than you think. Indeed, the relevant universe of potential parental control users is actually quite limited.

I find that the percentage of homes that might need parental control technologies is certainly no greater than the 32% of U.S. households with children in them. Moreover, the relevant universe of potential parental control users is likely much less than that because households with very young children or older teens often have little need for parental control technologies. Finally, some households do not utilize parental control technologies because they rely on alternative methods of controlling media content and access in the home, such as household media rules. Consequently, policymakers should not premise regulatory proposals upon the limited overall "take-up" rate for parental control tools since only a small percentage of homes might actually need or want them.
In this piece, I address the argument made by some media and Internet critics who say that government intervention (perhaps even censorship) may be necessary because parental control technologies are not widely utilized by most Americans. But, as I note in the paper, the question that these critics always fail to ask is: How many homes really need parental control technologies? The answer: Far fewer than you think. Indeed, the relevant universe of potential parental control users is actually quite limited.

I find that the percentage of homes that might need parental control technologies is certainly no greater than the 32% of U.S. households with children in them. Moreover, the relevant universe of potential parental control users is likely much less than that because households with very young children or older teens often have little need for parental control technologies. Finally, some households do not utilize parental control technologies because they rely on alternative methods of controlling media content and access in the home, such as household media rules. Consequently, policymakers should not premise regulatory proposals upon the limited overall "take-up" rate for parental control tools since only a small percentage of homes might actually need or want them.

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Categories:Business/Law
Published by: Adam Thierer on Feb 27, 2009
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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09/26/2010

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Progress on Point 
Volume 16, Issue 5 February 2009
1444 EYE STREET, NW
SUITE 500
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20005202-289-8928
 mail@pff.org 
 www.pff.org 
Who Needs Parental Controls?Assessing the Relevant Market forParental Control Technologies
by Adam Thierer
*
 A common refrain heard in debates about media, video game, or Internet contentregulation is that government intervention may be necessary because parental controltechnologies are not widely utilized in most homes. But does every household reallyneed parental control technologies? This paper argues that the relevant universe ofpotential parental control users is actually quite limited.
The term “parental controls” is defined broadly in this report. It includes the various
ratings systems
both industry-sponsored and independently crafted
that parentsmight use to screen media content. It also includes technologies such as the V-Chip,cable or satellite TV blocking controls, video game console controls, Internet filters andmonitoring tools, and the wide variety of other tools currently available to parents thatallow them to restrict or tailor the media content that their children consume, or theinteractive communications in which they engage.The number of families that might need or want these tools is smaller than most think.The percentage of homes that might need parental control technologies is certainly nogreater than the 32% of U.S. households with children in them. Moreover, the relevantuniverse of potential parental control users is likely much less than that becausehouseholds with very young children or older teens often have little need for parentalcontrol technologies. Finally, some households do not utilize parental controltechnologies because they rely on alternative methods of controlling media content andaccess in the home, such as household media rules. Consequently, policymakers
should not premise regulatory proposals upon the limited overall “take
-
up” rate for 
parental control tools since only a small percentage of homes might actually need orwant them.To better understand why this is the case, consider an analogy. Imagine a survey orstudy that gauged the efficacy of protective child cabinet locks by asking whether
all 
U.S. households employed such safety measures on kitchen and bathroom cabinets.Such a survey would yield truly absurd results. The vast majority of Americans have no
*
Adam Thierer (athierer@pff.org) is a senior fellow with The Progress & Freedom Foundation and thedirector of its Center for Digital Media Freedom. He is the author of
Parental Controls and Online Child Protection: A Survey of Tools and Methods 
(Washington, DC: The Progress & Freedom Foundation,Version 3.1, 2008). The views expressed in this report are his own.
 
Page 2 Progress on Point 16.5 
need for baby locks because they either: (a) have no children present in the home, (b)their children are of an age where such locks are not needed, or (c) they take othersteps to protect their children from harmful products that might be in the home. Thus,any survey or study that evaluated the success of child safety cabinet locks by using
all 
households as the relevant universe of analysis would produce highly skewed,inaccurate results. Such a survey or study would conclude that few households usesuch controls and, therefore, those controls are a failure, even though that is an illogicalconclusion based on a faulty statistical method.Regrettably, a similar statistical fallacy plagues discussions about parental controltechnologies today. Only a small percentage of households need parental controls, yetmany surveys or critiques of parental control technologies suffer from similar statisticalflaws by over-estimating the relevant universe of households.
1
 A more accurate methodological approach to studying this issue is described below.
Estimating the Relevant Universe of Parental Control Users
U.S. Census Bureau data can be used to determine which households have childrenand might need to employ parental control technologies. According to the Census
Bureau’s
Statistical Abstract of the United States 
, as of 2007, over 68 percent ofAmerican homes did
not 
have any children under 18 years of age in residence.
2
(Stateddifferently, only 32% of U.S. households have children in them). This percentage iscalculated as follows:
1
 
Adam Thierer, “Distorting Numbers in the Debate over Parental Controls,” Progress & Freedom
Foundation,
PFF Blog 
2
U.S. Census Bureau,
2008 Statistical Abstract of the United States 
 
Progress on Point 16.5 Page
Exhibit 1:Formula for Calculating the Percentage of Household without ChildrenNonfamily Households + Family Households without own Children
3
 ÷Total Households=% of Households without Children
Thus, using recent Census Bureau data, the percentage of homes without children for2007, the most recent year for which data is available, can be computed as follows:
Exhibit 2: Calculation for 2007
 
37,587 + 41,668÷116,011=68.3%
Incidentally, the number of homes without children in them has been steadily rising formany years. Exhibits 3 and 4 present a breakdown of the Census Bureau data for selectyears from 1960 to the present.
Exhibit 3:Breakdown of U.S. Households With and Without Children
3
According the Census Bureau, a
nonfamily household 
can be either a person living alone or ahouseholder who shares the housing unit only with his or her nonrelatives
for example, boarders or
roommates.” A
family household 
has at least two members related by birth, marriage, or adoption, one ofwhom is the householder. Family households are maintained by married couples or by a man or womanliving with other relatives
—children may or may not be present.” Obviously, the relevant su
bset of thosefamily households for this analysis would be those without any children present. See: U.S. Census
Bureau, “America’s Families and Living Arrangements: 2003,” November 2004, p. 2,

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