THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT IN DISCUSSION WITH CHILDREN AND PARENTS ABOUT TELEVISION PROGRAMMING
The Vice President's Ceremonial Office Old Executive Office Building
9:55 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, ladies and gentlemen, the President and the First Lady and my wife, Tipper, and I would like to welcome you here to this office. And, traditionally, this has been the Office of the Vice President since way back, since this became the Executive Office Building. And these families, with their children, have been invited here this morning for a discussion with the President and us here about the historic turning point yesterday in the relationship between families and the mass media.
As you know, President Clinton fought for, got passed in the Congress and then signed into law a real breakthrough measure called the V-chip, which makes it possible for parents to exercise more control over what their young children see on the television set.
Then yesterday, in response to President Clinton's invitation, the leaders of the entire entertainment industry came to the White House and after a two-hour discussion with the President announced their unanimous agreement who put in place a voluntary rating system for every program that appears on television, whether it's broadcast or cable; and to electronically encode that program with a signal that will interact with this electronic device called the V-chip, which will enable parents to say this particular kind of programming is not appropriate for my children in my judgment, and so when I'm not there, they're not going to be able to watch that.
Some of the parents who are gathered here today, and some of the children, too, have been thinking about this issue and this particular solution in some cases for quite some time. Some of them participated in the family conference that Tipper and I host each year and that the President spoke at last summer. Some of them have been featured in the First Lady's book about what families can do, "It Takes A Village." And this discussion this morning we hope will shed some more light on the importance of the turning point yesterday. And, of course, to lead the discussion and to explain why this is so important for our country, the President of our country, President Clinton.
THE PRESIDENT: Mr. Vice President, I might say, aren't we all glad to be in his big, beautiful office here. I love to come over here. I want to thank all of you for coming and to say to you and to the members of the media who are here, yesterday we heard for two hours from a remarkable assemblage of people who are involved in the television industry -- people who broadcast the programs; we heard from cable people; we heard from the people who write the programs; people who represent the actors; producers. It was an amazing assemblage of people who got together and came to Washington to announce that they had decided to develop a rating system for television programs like the movie rating system, and that as the Vice President said, that that would be able to used then when the V-chip becomes available in televisions.
Now, the V-chip, of course, will start coming into televisions in a couple of years. And we replace about 25 million televisions a year, I think, in America, so it will quickly be a fixture in a significant percentage of America's televisions. But the rating system presumably will still be helpful for parents even before they have the V-chip.
We wanted to have you in here today because we want to get a feel and we want the country to get a feel for what kinds of things parents feel about this rating system and the V-chip, what the young people feel about it, what you expect out of it, what do you think it will do, what won't it do, what would you like to see, how would you like to see it work and, of course, we have some advocates and professionals here who can talk about the impact of this on child-rearing in America and on childhood.
I must tell you, this is going to be a very complicated and difficult thing for these people in television to do in the sense that they have -- there are many, many thousands of -- tens of thousands of programs on all of these television stations, and as we get more cable channels, they will multiply exponentially. So the job of rating them is very different from the job of rating a couple of thousand movies a year.
So as they undertake this task, I think it's important for the people in the entertainment industry and the public at large to get just a feel for how parents feel about it, how young people feel about it and kind of how it should proceed, because they committed to have this done by the first of next year -- no later than the first of next year, and perhaps sooner.
So we really just felt we ought to have this conversation today and we thank you for joining us. And maybe we ought to start with you, Mrs. Somson. If you could tell the press -- everybody, if you could tell the press your name when you speak and how you happen to be here.
Q My name is Barbara Somson. I've got two kids, Michael Eisenbrey, 11, and Rebecca Eisenbrey, 8. And I'm here because I've been active with the PTA and I was asked to come here today. I think it is fabulous that the industry has agreed to put in this rating system.
I was growing up on Long Island -- there were, I think, seven TV channels. And now, as the President said, it's impossible to probably count how many there are. It's impossible for a parent to hope to screen what's on television today. And it would be so helpful to be able to have the rating system that I now use for the movies because, especially with younger children -- and I know it changes as your children get to be teenagers -- but I can say to my children, you don't watch movies that are PG-13. We don't have to talk about it. You know those are off of the screen, off of the table not to talk about those. Okay, so maybe we'll talk about what we do see, but we don't have to talk about this.
I think it's fabulous that they're going to start rating even before the V-chip is available, because parents can use that rating as a tool and the V-chip as a tool as the children especially get older. Just at Michael's age now, I'll leave him alone for a couple of hours and it's wonderful to be able to have that technology to enforce what I would be enforcing if I were home. And I, by the way, am home more than most parents because I don't work full-time. But I can't be with my children, by their side, at every moment guarding what they watch on TV, nor would I want to. I think it's terrific and I really applaud the industry for doing a big turnaround.
Q I'm LaTanya Jones and I am the mother of a three-year-old and a soon-to-be. And I work with a group in Maryland called Advocates for Children and Youth. We have something called the Maryland Campaign for Kids TV, so I know firsthand that there are a lot of parents who are very concerned about the issue of television. And I applaud not only the industry, but this administration for the support that you've given for the Children's Television Act, for Public Broadcasting and also for the V-chip.
I see the V-chip, though, as really just the first step because I think the parents not only need negative control over blocking the things that are coming into their homes that they think aren't good, but we need to continue to encourage the industry to produce good programming and to produce the kind of programming that we can become involved in helping our kids make good choices.
One of the things that we always talk about is that television is such a wonderful educational tool. And, unfortunately, the V-chip and the recent developments are really because a lot of what's being produced is not really using the potential that television has to educate and enlighten. So I'd like to see the V-chip and this industry coming together as the first step to taking it to where they can talk about pooling resources to produce better children's programming. And we're hopeful that the V-chip will be the beginning of that.
THE PRESIDENT: I want to talk about the better programming in a minute because I think that's a big part of it, especially when I ask the young people about it. But I want to give the parents who are here a chance to say anything they'd like to say about the V-chip and the ratings issue, and then I want to come back and talk about the V-chip with you. I want you to tell your story.
Q I'm Jim Murphy. I'm here with my family today. I've been involved for a number of years through the Virginia PTA and the National PTA advocating for children and children's issues, and I've long seen the impact that television has on our families and how we raise our children and the environment that our children are living in today. The V-chip in our home is going to be an aid, a tool. Particularly when you look at the diversity of ages of my children, ranging from 10 to 17, their viewing habits and what they should be viewing is vastly different.
I applaud the industry for the fact that -- and I applaud you for the fact that you have brought the industry to the rating scheme. I believe that the technology of what we're going to be doing with the V-chip is actually going to assist and aid the industry in refining and defining that rating system. I don't want to -- I want to make the judgment, along with my wife, as to what is good quality programming for my children, but I do not want to take that same standard and say that that has to be the industry standard. Those are the professionals. Let them worry about that. I'm worrying about what's in my home.
I do think that the V-chip is going to define for us now what has previously been defined by the industry, and that's the family hour or the family time, because I think people will actually vote -- since most of our airways are commercial, they'll vote with that V-chip. And advertisers will understand that and programmers will understand that. And maybe we will see more family programming of the type that we would like to see as a result.
So I see it as the critic's choice, and I tend to view it that way.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm so glad to hear you say that because there were -- you made two comments; I just want to say that to kind of resonate with the discussion we had with the people from the industry yesterday. Ted Turner said, and he went out and said in public, so I'm not saying anything in private he didn't say in public -- that he strongly supported the rating system and what we were doing, what they were doing, but he did think it would be very costly. And I think it will obviously cost a lot of money to figure out how to do this and then review all these programs, to set up the system. But I think he meant he thought it would be costly over the long run because programs would not have the same viewership and their advertisers would drop.
I think I see it more like you do; it's a voting system. It would be another -- it's like the Nielsen ratings, except you won't have -- this won't be a sample, you'll be able to actually know. You'll be able to at least sample all the V-chip homes, you take a representative sample. And it might actually change the content of programming so that the market, the market forces actually produce more positive programs.
The other thing you said I think is important, a couple of the folks who were skeptical yesterday talked about how this wouldn't be a panacea, it wouldn't solve all the problems. And one of the men in the broadcasting meeting said -- I mean the industry meeting -- he said, I'm going to take off my industry hat now and tell you that I'm a parent of three small children. I'm not looking for panaceas, I'm looking for a little help. (Laughter.) And I think that's the way all of us who are parents look at this. There is no such thing as a panacea, we're looking for a little help.
So you made that point, and I thought it as very good.
Q Along that same line, I think that with the V-chip it will be possible to address the issue of whether a particular program is acceptable, or not once, and not have to keep revisiting it every time you come down to the family room and you find that the children have conveniently forgotten that this was one of the programs that's been deemed not acceptable and you have to go back through the explanation over and over again -- remember, I told you we can't watch this because this is where it does not meet our standards.
And I think it will probably reduce some of the tension that goes back and forth as you keep reiterating the same issue over and over again over the same program. It could be discussed once, explained once, and then with the V-chip it's locked out and it's done. So I think that's going to be another benefit of it. And again, the push toward setting a standard and letting the standards reflect, hopefully, shaping the programming.
My name is Jacqueline Caldwell, and this is my husband, Excetral Caldwell. And we are the parents of toddlers. They are two and four. And we are delighted with the strides of the administration and the industry have made with respect to the V-chip and the voluntary rating system. We have a system right now where if we are watching television, I will notice that there may be something that we don't want the children to see, and my husband, who is the keeper of the remote -- (laughter) -- will change the channel. So we have to be sort of actively involved with what they see and don't see.
And anything, as you say, that will assist --
THE PRESIDENT: Hillary almost fell off the chair when you said that -- the keeper of the remote. (Laughter.)
Q So we're really delighted with both the V-chip and the rating system.
Q It is important. I mean, one of the first things I noticed as parents of toddlers is that one of the first things our children learned was how to turn on the TV. When they were two they could figure out how to hit the remote, what channel had to be on to actually get the screen on. So something like this is a vital first step for working parents like us who can't be there every single minute that they may be looking at TV.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Mr. President, you will remember that Dr. Robert Phillips with the American Psychiatric Association was one of the experts who met with us in Nashville last summer and the experts have pointed out that there have been about a thousand studies about the relationship between televised violence and actual violence and about six of them have said there's no connection. About 994 have said there is a very strong connection. And you were telling us in Nashville about why the expert community has felt strongly about this. Why don't you share some of that.
Q Well, I am a psychiatrist by training, although I remind my colleague that I did sub-internship in obstetrics so I am ready to respond if necessary. (Laughter.) I spend most of my time evaluating persons who have committed crimes and then testifying in court. It's becoming shocking to me that the persons that I was called to evaluate were becoming younger and younger, and the crimes that they were committing were becoming more and more heinous. And it began to focus my attention on what some of the root causes were and what are the things that are beginning to influence children to behave in ways that most of us, when were children, perhaps would not even think of doing.
The research information is overwhelming and it's clear. Mrs. Gore has called our attention to the way in which violent, demeaning musical lyrics can potentially affect the way in which children behave. Mrs. Clinton in her book talks about the way in which young brains form and the way the hard wiring of that brain is so easily influenced because by design children are great imitators. That's how they learn.
And in my own clinical experience and the research work that I've been doing, there's no question that both those things are true. We are a society that has become infatuated with violence and we feed our addiction to violence in every way conceivable, including at the news trailers at 5:00 p.m., 6:00. p.m., and 11:00 p.m., and every show that you can think of.
The National Television Violence Study which the American Psychiatric Association and other professional groups have participated in has shown that violence is free and gratuitous on television and its effect on children is powerful. Children are like little VCRs. They see something once, and then they repeat it. And they repeat it over and over and over again.
I share the enthusiasm that my colleagues share today in thanking you, Mr. President, and you, Mr. Vice President, for taking the leadership in an area where parents -- and while I am trained clinically, my primary job is to be a father of 16 and 14-year-old daughters and seven and five-year-old sons. In that broad spectrum I have seen some remarkable differences in attitudes and behaviors with what they see on television and what they listen to, only within that generational gap in my own family.
These are powerful influences. Television is an extraordinary medium, one that we should be very, very pleased that we have access to that technology because children have learned enormous things and have benefitted greatly. But with the good side of technology there is the potential risk, and it is that risk that I and the scientific community have become particularly concerned about, because we know without balancing that risk, without paying attention to the ways in which children learn, the kinds of violent images that sometimes are seen on television in which violent acts go unpunished, in which violence may be masked in humor, in which there is no pain. I evaluated someone in a hospital down south not too long ago who looked at me from his bedside, having been involved in a homicide in which he was shot, and he said to me, "Doc, I never realized it was going to hurt to be shot."
These are powerful statements coming from our children. And these are the kinds of images that we as parents, at the very least, need some help in making determinations as to what children are exposed to, at what age and what frequency. What my 16 and 14-year-old watch may be quite different from what I think my seven and five-year-old ought to watch. And I think what the two of you have done has really helped facilitate the industry and parents to work together on creating a stronger and more healthy environment in which children can use television in a productive and useful way.
THE PRESIDENT: Hillary, do you want to comment on that, based on what you said in --
MRS. CLINTON: That was incredible. I mean, I think that if we could have every parent hear that and understand it, then the rating system and the V-chip would be even more effective because, of course, one of our challenges is to convince parents to use the rating system and to take the time and energy that will be required to implement it in their own homes, and then when the V-chip comes along, to be ready to use that as well. And the more information they can get, such as the doctor is explaining about what we know is the linkage between what they see on television and how they behave, I think the more willing parents will be to act.
THE PRESIDENT: I want to get to the young people here. And let me tell you, it's okay if you disagree with us about this. (Laughter.) We want to hear what you really think. But I want to ask the doctor one more question. Before I had this job, as I used to say, back when I had a life -- (laughter) -- I was governor of my state when I ran a big prison system and a big criminal justice system, obviously. And then I was attorney general and before that I taught criminal law. So I've been following issues of crime and violence closely from that perspective for more than 20 years now.
For most of my time, it was an article of faith that 75 percent of all the violent crimes in America were created by people between the ages of 17 and 26. And that there was almost a hormonal problem. If you could literally just get violent people and put them somewhere until they were 27, you could let them out and then they would not do that again. That there really almost seemed to be sea changes.
Now we see an astonishing thing. With the crime rate going down among people 18 and over, and I might add, drug use going down among people over 18, and violence going up among people under 18, as well as casual drug use. And I think there are plainly other reasons for increasing violent behavior among young people, including the lives that many of them have to live virtually raising themselves on some of the meanest streets in America.
But I gather from what you said that you really believe that the sort of cumulative, almost deadening impact of all this media-generated violence is at least partly the explanation for rising rates of violence among juveniles.
Q I don't think there's any question, Mr. President. And you're right, if you look at the recent data that was released by the Justice Department, you see this rather unusual trend, a very positive trend that crime rates overall in this country are going down, except there has been an extraordinary explosion of crime among juvenile offenders -- those individuals who under the age of 18. The use of handguns by juveniles in this country has increased in the last six years by 144 percent, so that in the last year there were close to 2,000 murders committed by children under the age of 18 and whom the victims were other children under the age of 18.
Now, it would be foolish to suggest that the television set and the broadcast industry is responsible for that; it is a multifactorial problem. But what is true is that something has radically changed from when you and I grew up on Long Island to the way in which people are growing up on Long Island and other places in this country now.
And one of the things that I think scientifically helps explain the phenomenon is what we talked about in Nashville, and I think that is one of the powerful negative effects of repeated exposure to gratuitous violence, whether it is through the ear or whether it is through the eyes and the ears combined. And that is the concept of desensitization. And I gave an example in Nashville, and if I can have a moment I'll give it again.
Most of us probably remember the rather horrific image that was captured quite accidentally by video cameras of Rodney King being beaten in the streets of Los Angeles. And the first time you saw that image you probably were repelled by it. But quite honestly, by the fifth, 10th, 12th or 20th time, you did what most of my male colleagues in this room do, since we do have the remote controls, and that is to reach over -- there's a little joke that we've had in the room for the last few minutes that it was a male thing -- you reach for that remote control and you change the channel.
Except the point that you change that channel that I think you demonstrated your desensitization to the cumulative effect of violent exposure. In fact, if you think about the ways in which we have used desensitization scientifically, the more you show someone an image, the less impacted they are by that image, and they are then able to move on to the next step.
This is part of what's happening in our society with our young because of the way young brains are hard-wired, because if you use misogynistic and violent language in musical lyrics and you listen to that, it becomes easier then to use that language and convey those attitudes when you interact with others.
I think these are the kinds of things that substantively contribute to some of the data that you reference, Mr. President, but we've got to be very careful not to presume that the answer is in the television or that the blame lays with the broadcast industry, because that's summarily incorrect, and we have to remember that it is this very same industry that is responsible for substantively increasing the literacy rate in this country and by reaching out and capturing the minds of children who are visual learners and learn by visual and auditory images than print images, and so we have to accept both the good with the bad but recognize that we have a responsibility when we identify something that could be problematic to try and deal with or create a safety net for those children for which this may be problematic.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me point out that next week, toward the end of next week, I believe it's on March the 7th the President's going to be hosting a White House Conference on Youth Violence, looking at a lot of the other factors involved.
But the fact that children, on average, before graduating from high school, witness 20,000 simulated murders on a little box in their home has to have some effect, as all of the studies indicate. And while there are many other causes of the problem also, this is one, and it's one that, thanks to the President, is finally going to be susceptible to a solution. And, thanks to the industry for taking the steps that they agreed to yesterday.
So we have to take each of the causes, one by one. As the President was saying, these children here may have a different perspective, certainly is something to add to this.
THE PRESIDENT: I thought maybe we ought to start with Catherine next to me, because Catherine Murphy actually passed the first V-chip bill -- (laughter) -- in the United States of America. I think you all need to know that. It wasn't us, it was her. And so I think you ought to hear her story and I'd like to know how you came to propose this legislation and what you think of it.
Q Well, I first discovered the project actually with the aid of my father who was working on the project for the Virginia PTA, and it interested me, so I contacted Jim Moran's office and asked for a copy of the legislation that was in committee at the time, and he sent me the House Bill 1807, I think it was. And I took a look at that and, going to the seminar across the nation -- 96 girls from around the country and came and set up a mock Senate, and we were all responsible for proposing our own piece of legislation, be it a resolution or a bill on something that we thought was important.
And since I discovered this project and it caught my eye and I decided that I would write my own version of the V-chip bill and submit it at the Girls Nation Senate. And so the first day we were there, we went into committee and I had to defend it there. And it got through committee and got on the floor, had to defend it there. It got through the entire senate, and I had a lot of support behind it. And the senator president who didn't believe in government regulation of private industry whatsoever, and she vetoed it. (Laughter.)
THE PRESIDENT: They'll do that to you. (Laughter.) Let me ask you this. Do you believe -- I want to ask and then I want to go around to the students here -- how do you think the V-chip should be used? And how much difference do you think there is in the age of the children in terms of the regulation of the programming?
Q Well, strictly in my home, concerning the -- I'm 17 and a senior in high school, and my brother is 10 and a fifth-grader in elementary school. There's a vast difference between the four of us, between our TV watching habits. I am so involved in so many different school activities that television is just not a high priority for me and I don't find myself watching a lot of television. I watch the news because I like to stay informed -- I'm probably a little odd like that in my age group.
But it's not a very high priority for me, whereas elementary schoolers spend a lot of time, I've noticed -- I mean, a lot of time. And when I used to baby sit, I'd go over and baby sit and the parents would say, don't worry about them, they'll get ready for bed and turn on the TV. And then at 9:00, send them to bed. And, I'd go over there at 5:00 p.m. in the evening; they eat dinner, they turn on the television at 6:00 p.m. and just sit there for three hours.
I think, baby sitting job, okay, but, you know, when it finally got to me, if you're thinking about it, these kids could be reading a book or doing their homework, possibly. (Laughter.) Something has got to be -- there's got to be a line between where television is useful and informative and where it's just mindless activity.
THE PRESIDENT: You watch television a lot?
Q I don't watch it as much as most of my peers, because I am somewhat busy considering my age because I play two sports. I do street hockey with my friends and I fence, and I spend a lot of time in a creek near our house. But I do watch some news. I watch the news, one or two cartoons, and sometimes I watch E.R. But I know a lot of friends basically base their lives on TV. That's all it is. They go home, turn on the tube, and at 10:00 p.m. they go to bed. That's it. And then during school, that's all they talk about. And they base their lives on it, and they think everything they've seen on TV is perfectly fine and is how they should act. And a lot of it isn't. A lot of it is the exact opposite of how they should be acting, yet they base it --
THE PRESIDENT: If you've actually seen that in your friends who believe it --
THE PRESIDENT: -- that they're acting, they model what they do based on what they see on television.
Q Yes. They model themselves after Will Smith or Bart Simpson and they act just like them. And they end up getting in a lot of trouble, too. And they never realize it because they figure, oh, well, it's okay because I see it on TV every night. And I like the V-chip because it doesn't automatically do anything, but it gives you the power -- it gives the parents the power to control it so that kids won't do that. And what I'm hoping is that they can block out the bad programming, and if nobody's watching it, then they're liable to put good programming in there because they have to get their income somehow.
THE PRESIDENT: What about you? You're eleven, right?
Q Yes. My sister watches TV sort of like -- she'll sneak away when she's done with her homework and watch TV. But I hardly ever watch TV. I like the computer much more than the TV. I play on the computer for hours and hours.
Q Is there going to be a V-chip for the computer? (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: No.
THE PRESIDENT: -- about that because that's going to be a big issue.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Let me interject and make a brief point on that. The industry group in the computer industry that has put together this system for rating computer games just made an announcement yesterday that they're coming up with their own industry-based approach to give parents the ability to screen the Internet to prevent material that's inappropriate for young children come into home computers on the Internet. Now, some of the on-line providers like America Online already do that, but there needs to be this industry-wide system to do it for the Internet generally in case that legal provision doesn't work out. It's real controversial, but that's good news. But I didn't want to interrupt you. Go ahead with what you were saying about TV.
Q Well, I have a couple of friends who watch TV. a lot. Their brothers -- one of them is in fourth grade, the other is in sixth grade. And they are sort of -- they spend most of their time playing with Leggo, playing on the computer or watching TV. But they're really not affected -- they don't watch many violent programs. They watch The Simpsons, they watch cartoons. But they don't watch violent programs. And TV doesn't really affect them much.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Have you ever had a friend, either of you, who watches the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers?
THE VICE PRESIDENT: You haven't?
Q I have a friend who watches them, but I hate that show. (Laughter.)
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, does he act out the moves?
Q Sometimes him and his friends, like, during recess will go away from playing kick ball and they'll just pretend they are the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers or the X Men or whichever they saw what they think looks the most interesting episode the day before. And they'll just act them out. And then they'll just go around pretending they have such power and just pretend they're killing each other or such things and think nothing of it.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: And they do the kicks and the --
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Teachers say there are lots of little Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and many of them have gotten hurt.
THE PRESIDENT: What do you think? Do you think your mother should have some influence over what you watch on television or should you decide?
Q It would be good if my mom did because there's still a lot of shows that I watch, there are some things like -- (inaudible) -- and I just don't think that kids should be able to watch those because some kids in the second grade, some kids in my class, there are two kids near my desk and they're always pretending to be the X Men. And they're like scrapping me with their pencils and stuff and they take three pencils and go like that and pretend that they're all these different people. And this gets really annoying -- (laughter) -- and they go to the principal's office and they just don't really think much of it because they're just --
THE PRESIDENT: Playing out what they saw on TV.
THE PRESIDENT: What about you all?
Q I'm 13. I baby-sit, and I see these kids playing games and they're just acting out what they've seen on television, but they hurt each other and they don't -- and when you tell them you can't do that, and you can't roughhouse like those, they don't realize what's wrong with it. I also see myself -- I watch less and less television as I get more active in clubs and sports and groups at my school and going out with my friends, and there are better things to do than watch television.
Kids could be playing -- like, my little brother prefers to go out and play in the woods or build forts with his friends than watch television. Kids need to expand their imaginations. And they could be doing so many other things that would benefit them instead of watching cartoons and violence, et cetera, et cetera.
Q Recent studies have shown that kids in the inner city watch up to 11 hours of television a day, and it's important for us to acknowledge that for some parents, they'd much rather have their kids in the house watching TV than out in the neighborhood that might not be safe or in activity or with friends that they don't particularly approve of what the friends are doing.
So I'd much rather have my son watching X-Men and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers than out there with someone who has actually got a real gun playing pretend. When I talk to parents' groups about the fact that the average American household watches seven hours a day, people usually shop. They hear, "seven hours, how could you do it?" But when you really think if it, many of us use the television as an alarm clock in the morning, so it's very, very common for households to have the TV on for two hours in the morning while you find out what's the weather, what are the school lunches. And then kids who come home from school may watch a couple of hours in the afternoon.
And as we know, many parents watch the news with their kids while they're cooking dinner and then at dinner. By the time you've added two or three hours of prime time, you're not even talking David Letterman or the Tonight Show. It really is not hard to add those hours up a day, and the kids who are watching 11 hours a day are going to school, but they're also watching cartoons in the morning, they're watching cartoons in the afternoon, they're watching in the evenings.
This young man mentioned to me that he got the sense that a lot of the kids here don't watch a lot of TV, and I said I think it's because your parents are really aware, and even though there are parents that are also concerned, they don't quite know what to do and how to offer alternatives, or the alternative of watching the show and having this fantasy may seem safer.
So I think that the V-chip will be helpful to a lot of the parents, but I also think that encouraging parents to help kids be critical viewers and choose what they're watching carefully is also really important, too.
THE PRESIDENT: What do you think?
Q Well, I think it's kind of like sad what's being put on TV now, and it's really good because the V-chip is going to be able to get rid of those things, because they have things like "Tales From The Crypt," and "X-Files," and those things freak me out -- so -- and it's really sad because these little kids are watching them and they get the wrong sense of reality, and they shouldn't be watching these things because that leaves them in their rooms hugging their teddy bears, saying I'm not afraid of the dark, I'm not afraid of the dark, practicing for when they're supposed to go to bed, instead of playing outside and playing with their friends, riding their bikes.
They should be having fun and not being scared, and it's really awful that they get addicted to it and everything. They should spend more time outside and have fun with their friends, because you only get to be a child once.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Have you or any of your friends ever had nightmares and trouble sleeping because of images you've seen on television?
Q Yes. We were spending the night at one of my friend's house once, it was her birthday, and we were talking about the last time she had rented a movie, one of the Chucky movies --they stayed up all night because they were terrified that Chucky was in the other room and they couldn't go to sleep. It's sad what -- things that go on TV.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, one of the reasons I asked that question is that many children that watch the television eight, ten hours a day will at a young age now often be exposed to decapitation or some very gruesome, violent scene, that they're not in any way prepared to deal with. And many parents tell us that they have to spend a lot of time comforting children when they have these nightmares and have trouble going to sleep. And the V-chip gives those parents a tool with which they can instruct their television set, don't put those images on in front of my child anymore. It's a major advance.
Q I think that's something that's really important. A lot of people are talking about, "But the V-chip won't do this, the V-chip will do that." It's not the V-chip that's going to do it, it's the parents. And that's got to be the biggest point people have to understand with this new technology, is it's not just this microchip, it's not just the broadcasting industry -- it's got to start with the parents and it's got to start at home with the parents educating their children about what's right and wrong in television and then being able to back that up with the technology, to be able to enforce the values that they're teaching at home with that technology that they have accessible to themselves now.
Q I'd just like to say a word for children. I think you're exactly right, it is power to parent, the V-chip is power to the parent. But I think what you're saying is also something we've seen in our house. And as you get older what we as parents want for our children is to make good, critical decisions about what they view, to know what freaks you out. And you, yourself, can use the V-chip to block out programs that you decide that you don't want to see. And as kids get older they can use it as a way to protect themselves from those kinds of images.
And I think that's another value of it that we don't want to overlook. We want to focus on parents and parents having the power, but older children also are going to be able to use the V-chip to help themselves have critical viewing skills and know themselves and what they want to see. And so kids, too, are to be given credit for having sense about this.
Q I was thinking about -- we've heard the younger person's perspective on how violence in TV has affected them and their peers. And we've heard Catherine talk about how her -- the activities she's involved with in school that really doesn't -- it makes television go down on her list of priorities. And I think that when you look at the age groups, I think that there's kind of a transitional age between the children that are young enough to have adult supervision for the majority of the time that they're going to be spending watching TV or doing other activities.
And there's a difference between that and the older kids who have soccer practice after school or who are independent enough to spend the afternoon at the library by themselves. And I think it's the age -- you know, 12, 13, 14 -- where kids are becoming more independent. They don't require constant attention from their parents or a baby sitter. And I think that's the age where a lot of education and a lot of instruction and guidance as to what kind of shows are appropriate and what kind of shows are indicative of acceptable behavior. I think that's the age where that needs to be stressed.
Q I think that's a really key point. More and more studies have shown in that middle school period of time, where we go into the prepubescent period and early adolescence, that is probably the most critical time in a child's life and it is also -- I think all of us as parents know it's probably the most difficult time that we have raising our children. We're not only dumber than dirt -- (laughter) -- but they seem to have gone into a melt-down and just kind of tuned us out for a while. And that's where the influence of the television -- and it really does seem to be that's where the mind set is that they sort of vegetate there for a couple of years. And it's at that critical point where we're shaping those values that they're going to carry with them. And this goes back into what we were talking about earlier in the crime statistics.
Q You know, it's really interesting because -- well, I think it's true, as parents we always think about the most critical time as being what we're trying to deal with at the moment. And if you've got adolescents in the house, that's pretty preoccupying. But I vacillate back and forth with my sons and daughters because of the gap. And, really, if you look critically at the research you begin to recognize that it's all important. While the value constructs that you talk about I think are extraordinarily critical, because that's a time when normally, in fact, long before there was television, we were struggling at that age to try and figure out what's right and what's wrong and how we should behave. But, you know, between the ages of one and six there is a lot that's going on that we tend to forget about.
If you put children in a room with a monitor and you feed violent and aggressive images into that room through the monitor and leave some toys on the floor and then shut the monitor off, guess what happens? Within minutes, those behaviors will be reenacted so that we've got to recognize that it's all important.
And I think the most positive thing, as had been said by many of the young folks in this room and their parents is that the technology is marvelous. When I was a kid growing up in New York, there were three television stations. And programming was so sophisticated that the Million-Dollar Movie ran the same movie four times a day, seven days a week. (Laughter.) Things have changed. And they've changed in such a way that you simply don't know what's on and you don't have a handle on what the information is that's available -- good and bad.
This small piece of technology really helps us create a reasonable environment for the broad range of children that may be in your home and in your community and in our nation. I predict, and I hope I'm right in this prediction, that this is the first in a series of technologies that will be helpful. This one happens to be viewed negatively because it's been cast as an instrument that will block out signals. But I suspect that there's going to be technology that's going to help us facilitate identifying things that are of value. I think we're going to see frame shifts in the industry.
But most importantly, we have to make sure that this technology does not force parents to reach over to that television set and turn it off. Because if we turn off the television set, we are really denying our children probably one of the greatest inventions of this century that has really, I think, served an enormously useful purpose in providing strong and important influences.
THE PRESIDENT: I'm so glad to hear you say that as well. But that -- I don't know how much time we have left, but I think we ought to hear from the young people especially on the flip side of this because we believe it's important, we applaud the industry for developing the rating system and making it compatible with the V-chip.
But the Children's Television Act, which was passed a couple of years ago, also calls upon producers of television programs to develop more and better programs that will be appealing to children in a positive way.
And I just want to make two points and then ask anybody who wants to comment to comment. There were two interesting ideas which came out yesterday. One is, the people who were there -- not us, the Vice President and I just watched -- but in the room there, in the industry, there was a genuine argument about whether, particularly younger people, would be as likely to watch any kind of educational program as they would a sort of a violent cartoon or something. And there was a woman there from the Discovery Channel who was a very powerful advocate and said, that is not true. If you make education entertaining, it will be watched. And she gave some examples. That's the first thing -- would you like to have more positive programming on television?
The second thing I think's important to point out -- one of you sort of inched up to it when you were talking about the Internet, young people on the computer. All these technologies, the Vice President knows 100 times more about this than I do, but it looks to me like they're all merging. I mean, it won't be very long before you can call up any movie you want on your computer and before a lot of the things you see on your television screen are interactive.
So that I think that basically we're watching -- we're seeing a process -- and that, by the way, will engage more young people because as they become more computer literate, if they have interactive programs on television, it will bring them up. Or if they can call movies up on the computer, it will -- so we really need to also focus on the positive things that we ought to be doing for our children.
And so, what do you think? Do you think young people would be just as likely to watch more constructive programs if they were genuinely entertaining, or do you believe there's just an inherent predisposition to watch the violence?
Q I think that most definitely fun, educational television is -- has been and will continue to be widely accepted by young children because young children are so fascinated by basically everything. And if you fascinate them with something that's going to benefit them and something that's going to make them more aware of what's going on, it opens so many more new doors and windows of opportunity for them.
Watching an educational show about animals, for instance, can spark a child's interest in biology or some kind of science relating to animals, and that's such a fascinating field, and it can give a child like sort of a boost into a lifetime of educational filming in terms of TV and their studies and just basically their lives.
MRS. CLINTON: One of the things that was said yesterday that I did find interesting, and the teenagers I'd like to respond to this is, you know, the movie industry, with few exceptions -- mostly the Disney animated features, finds that a G rating is the kiss of death for most movies because teenagers won't go to see a G-rated movie. And, in fact, most teenagers won't go to see a PG-rated movie and they go to PG-13, and that's one of the reasons that the category was split, apparently.
But one of the people at the meeting yesterday said that they are concerned that when they get to older kids who are a big market for consumer goods, that the older kids will have more control over the V-chip because their parents will think they have more authority and right do that on their own, and that they just won't choose programming once they get to be 12, 13 and above that is educational. Younger kids, yes, you can encode it and you can say I think you'll love watching this animal show, but when you get to be your ages, how do we send a message to the industry that older kids also will be interested in programs that aren't filled with a lot of violence and cheap thrills all the time.
Q Well, I date -- I'm 14 and I'm starting to date. And when I go to a movie with some friends, we went and saw Toy Story, we went out to the mall, saw Toy Story, ate dinner there. So it's not necessarily that all teenagers are picking the violent movies or the PG-13 or the R movies. And I find more of my friends go see the new Disney movie or the movie that is marketed towards the children, because it's cute, it's funny. So it's not -- I mean, I can't speak for everyone, but we prefer to go see the new Disney thing instead of the rated R movie with who knows who --
MRS. CLINTON: You are an exception -- (laughter) -- based on the numbers that are out there.
Q I think also it has to do with where I live and the family upbringing that I had.
MRS. CLINTON: That's exactly right.
Q Also, that I don't -- I watch a television show and, you know, someone dies in it and I cry, and I'm just like, oh, my gosh, because I'm not numb to it. But I notice that some of my peers are numb to it, they can watch, you know, really violent television and go, oh, okay, great." I can't do that. And I sit there going, oh, my gosh, you know.
Q I know I've seen Aladdin and I can see -- (inaudible) -- but when I watched Aladdin with my peers there are enough jokes that are on the higher level and they're almost bordering political satire that it catches the attention of the older crowd. And I think that's something that's very smart. What they've got to do is understand the same thing that, apparently, the advertising industry is a master at understanding -- you have to have your target audience.
If you're trying to target teenagers, there's going to be certain ways you're going to have to do it and you don't have to give up the violent programming. But educational programming for younger children is drastically different than what educational programming for high schoolers, what would catch their eye. And I think probably one of the keys for the industry to create educational programming for kids ages like 14, 17, high school, freshmen to senior in high school, is to use freshmen and seniors in high school.
I mean, teenagers want to relate to other teenagers. I mean, that's what I can say. And to use other teenagers -- you know, the news kind of -- the kids news stories. I think, you were pointing out, when they have other teenagers that come on and share, like, experiences or neat adventures, or a teenager who got to go do this or got to go do that, I think that kind of stuff, sharing each other's experiences, that's the kind of thing that educational programming for high schoolers needs to be.
Q That's the third quality -- children and young adult programming. The industry by default has left it to the cable industry, that's done a really remarkable job of providing quality children's television. But the open airwaves -- and I think this is the important issue of the Telecommunications Act -- there really has to be an aggressive looking at the kinds of programming, which even as late as the early '70s was available.
I can remember the Information Rock series, and how a bill becomes a law, and those little five-minute vignettes that used to be on the broadcast networks which have summarily disappeared. Kids are information sponges, in answer to your original question, and they will draw up anything that you put in front of them. The problem is that we have tended not to put in front of them the kinds of things that will be beneficial to them as persons but, more importantly, the kinds of things that are going to be beneficial to them as young citizens in this nation.
Q And that's why the Children's Television Act remains so important and why -- I'd be remiss representing the advocacy community to not talk about the opportunities with the FCC, with the fact that there are two openings. And now that the Telecommunications Act has been passed it changes the license renewal period for stations and when communities actually will have a chance. So the commissioners who are the FCC and the strengthening of the Children's Television Act is really crucial because that is really impacting on the kids and the quality of the programming.
I did just want to talk a little bit about an effort in Maryland, only because I think what we're all talking about is sort of the theoretical. But how do parents who at home get involved in activities and in groups that are actually trying to do something. And in Maryland we have something called a Maryland Campaign for Kids TV, which is the only statewide group that we have teams that are assigned to each of the stations that talk to station management and work in partnership with them to talk about what's on television. And we did put out a book.
You talked about how important it is not to see turning the TV off as the only alternative. You hear people in the industry always say there is already a V-chip, it's the on and off button. But we think pulling the plug isn't the only option. And what we've done is we've organized this parent's guide by age group, because it's very true that toddlers are dealing with something very different. And then for three years we have evaluated the programming that's on Maryland stations, to take a look at the educational program to see is it getting better, is it getting worse. And we have kids involved in that, too.
I think that you're very right to say that the children are so savvy these days, from a very early age. My daughter at three, the fact that VCR was part of her vocabulary when she could start to talk. And I think that we're really remiss if we don't get the kids involved and realize, as you just said, that teenagers want to see other teens. They don't want to see old people telling them what to do. So get the teens involved. And the industry has the ability to use all those creative resources to do good, positive shows. It doesn't all just have to be the violent stuff.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: I wanted to say before we close, Mr. President -- and I've been getting the signal that we've gone way overtime because this conversation has been interesting. And I know the President has expressed the hope that conversations like this will take place in communities all across the country. And just as Tipper's campaign with music provoked conversation about that issue, this new law and the industry move yesterday will have the extra added benefit of provoking conversation about the wide range of issues that television raises for families that often go undiscussed.
You were talking about children vegging out on television. That's a problem. You were saying they're little VCRs. Sometimes they just blink 12:12:12. (Laughter.) And that's a problem. The nightmares -- but the studies, while pointing out some of the problems, also demonstrate, as we learned in Nashville, that children who see a few hours of television each week with the programming chosen thoughtfully, with their parents involved in making the choice, actually do better in school and learn faster.
And so it really does not make sense for most families to just pull the plug and throw the television out of the house, although we've probably all been tempted to do that at times. It's not practical. Nor is it practical, as you said, for a parent to be told you have to stand there every minute of every hour and monitor every single program your child is watching. That is impossible. What the V-chip provides is a third option -- for parents to make categorical choices and say, this is the kind of programming that I think is good for my child and I want it available in my living room, as you said. But this other kind of programming which has images or language or scenes that my child is not prepared to deal with yet, keep that out of my house. And the choice is made by the parent.
But this conversation today, as I said, is one that's taken place all across America and this new program, the V-chip and the rating system is going to make it possible for parents to act on those choices.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I would like to thank all of you for being here, especially the young people. Thank you, doctor, it's good to see you again.
Q Good to see you, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: I want to thank Tipper Gore when she first proposed a rating system for records it was considered heresy. And now she's lived and worked hard at this long enough to make it a matter of American conventional wisdom in television.
And let me say that for Hillary and for me, based on our experience over the last 15 or 20 years, maybe the most important reason to have this conversation today was the point that Catherine made when she first talked about her work for the V-chip, and that is that technology is intrinsically action oriented, but neither intrinsically good nor bad. It depends on the values and the action of the people in control of the technology. And while this gives more -- the V-chip and the ratings information will give more power to parents, it's utterly useless unless they use it.
And so what I'm hoping that this did today is to convince other people in other community settings and every community in our country to begin to discuss these matters and to begin to now -- if their community does not have an advocacy group, like the one you are involved in, perhaps to form one or at least figure out how friends and neighbors can get together and figure out how they're going to use this ratings information and figure out how they're going to use the V-chip as the V-chip comes in.
But I was glad to hear Mrs. Somson say what she did about this. You don't have to wait for the V-chip to make use of the ratings information. You know, most parents are still influenced --most children still have some influence about what their parents say, and parents are influenced by their children. So I just want to encourage that every place in America.
But this law that was passed, and this remarkable effort by the industry will not amount to a hill of beans if the parents do not take action in their homes and if in each community the community activists who know how to make the most of this don't work with the parents to do it.
Thanks a lot. It's great to see you. END 10:58 A.M. EST