Karen Thomas, a mother of three boys from Wolfeboro, N.H., worries whenever she learns her sons have been shopping in video stores.
“They like to go shopping with their friends. Let's face it,” she says, “they're at an age when they don't want me by their side. I just pray that if they happen to see a video or DVD cover that's a bit risqué, our family training will kick in and they'll move on.”
Thomas is not alone in her concerns. Countless numbers of parents fret about their children being exposed to profanity, illicit sex and low moral standards while browsing through video stores — even if they don't buy or rent the wares.
It doesn't have to be this way. And, in some video outlets, it isn't: A number of large video chains have set up safeguards to protect children from being exposed to these temptations.
One conspicuous example is Blockbuster Video, the world's leading renter of videos, DVDs and video games (it's got more than 5,500 stores in the United States alone). You won't find any films or video games rated X or NC—17 in Blockbuster outlets.
“We pride ourselves in providing quality home entertainment. A big part of that is being a family-friendly destination,” says Blockbuster spokesman Randy Hargrove.
Parents point out that even at Blockbuster, there are plenty of offerings that they'd rather not expose their children to. Hargrove says that Blockbuster offers a free service called Youth-Restricted Viewing, which allows parents to limit what products their minor children can rent or purchase from its stores.
Blockbuster says it also helps children pick appropriate selections. For example, this summer it launched a Kids Club program. For a one-time donation of $2, which benefits Boys and Girls Clubs of America, families can rent one free video every day of the summer. The only caveat is that the video has to be listed on the company's family-viewing guide. Nor are movies on this list restricted to undesirable titles; up for free grabs are such popular offerings as Cats & Dogs, Shrekand Inspector Gadget.
When it comes to being family-friendly, Blockbuster may lead the pack — thanks to its sheer size — but it has plenty of company.
Sean Devlin Bersell, vice president of public affairs for the Video Software Dealers Association, points to Hollywood Video, the second-largest rental chain in the country, and Movie Gallery, the third largest, as examples of other stores committed to providing a family-friendly environment.
Of course, the picture is not all sunshine and light. “Most of the video chains do have ‘family sections’ — but, for the most part, the stores are filled with PG-through R-rated films, which constitute the vast majority of theatrical releases,” says Brother Bill Johnson, a Missionary Oblate of Mary Immaculate who works with the Oblate Media and Communications Corp. in St. Louis.
Brother Johnson is quick to point out that the responsibility lies not only with the video stores but also with the parents.
“I am a firm believer that the family is the first and primary source for the faith-development of children,” says Brother Johnson.
He sites the apostolic letter Familiaris Consortio, in which Pope John Paul II calls the family “the first community called to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis, to full human and Christian maturity.”
Says Brother Johnson, “Parents who take their role of ‘an educating community’ seriously need to interact with their children and help them learn to evaluate and make choices as they grow in maturity.”
Bersell says “parents should educate themselves about the movie and video game rating systems, talk to their local video store about what restrictions they want placed on their children, examine the ratings and the rating reasons before renting or buying movies and video games. They should talk to the clerks to learn more about a particular movie or video game and monitor their children's entertainment consumption.”
Though lawsuits are under way, parents can still rent films from companies that edit out offensive material. (See “Edited DVDs Cleaning Up Hollywood's Act,” from the Register's Feb. 8, issue, at http://www.ncregis ter.com/Register_ News/020203dvd.htm.)
Which puts the focus back on the family.
“At a certain point in growing up, a child will find himself in a video store or other media outlet without benefit of a parent,” says Brother Johnson. “A key developmental task of all children is to eventually develop their own sense of identity and maturity.
“A child who has been affirmed, has experienced love and respect, and has been helped to learn the consequences of choices and behavior in the family of origin will carry respect and reverence into a video store, the mall, the halls of education and the community in which they live.”
There are some “sure bets” out there. The Oblates of Mary Immaculate, for example, have assisted in the creation and production of a video distributor called Videos With Values (http://www.videos withvalues.com) that offers a very safe choice for families.
Brother Johnson explains: “One of the goals of our media ministry is to provide families with alternative entertainment choices not found in the video stores.”
Gradually, video stores are implementing programs that create “family” areas and personal parental screening systems.
In the end, however, the decision to avoid inappropriate videos and games must be made by well-formed, responsible kids and teens — making choices under the watchful eyes of the parents who love them.
Mary Ann Sullivan writes from New Durham, New Hampshire.