New research from the Parents Television Council shows that streaming service Netflix has been promoting programs that are sexually explicit and have harsh profanities to minors.
The report, "Teen-Targeted Broadcast TV Can Be Vulgar...But Stranger Things Are Happening on Netflix," found that half of 255 titles designated by Netflix as suitable for teenagers were rated R or TV-MA, meaning "mature."
“This is deeply troubling news for families, given that Netflix use has surged with the coronavirus lockdown,” said Tim Winter, president of Parents Television Council.
“Explicit profanity like the ‘f-word’ is nearly ubiquitous on Netflix’s teen programming, revealing an apparent disconnect between what Netflix deems appropriate for teen viewers and what the average parent might consider appropriate.”
The streaming service is by far the most popular in the United States with over a third of Americans listing Netflix as their favorite in a recent national survey. Netflix has nearly 70 million subscribers nationwide, according to an earnings report released last month.
The Federal Communications Commission released a status report in May 2019 on whether the TV-ratings system was serving its intended aims. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 is the federal statute under which parental guidelines for television content are established, under the authority of the FCC.
“One underlying cause of ratings inaccuracy and inconsistency is that creators of content are responsible for rating their own programs,” the FCC report said, noting that the networks "have an incentive to apply a more lenient rating to programs than they may warrant, in order to increase the advertising revenue.”
Winter called the ratings FCC system the "proverbial fox guarding the henhouse." The government agency has no governing authority over streaming platforms like Netflix but the voluntary television ratings system every platform uses.
“It is nearly impossible for parents to sit 24/7 with their kids when they’re consuming media,” Winter said.
“Even if you are making sure your child is watching something in teen categories, you’re not aware of how much profanity is being thrown around."
Some of the Netflix originals called out for frequent use of profanities, including the "f-word," are "Stranger Things" and "Rim of the World."
The PTC president is concerned that many parents are becoming overwhelmed and desensitized to the vulgarity, particularly given the pandemic where binge-watching is more likely to happen. Yet more competition among streaming platforms may yield better options for parents seeking to monitor their children's media exposure more scrupulously, he believes.
Netflix recently updated its parental controls to provide the ability to block a TV series or film from showing up in a child’s profile. Parents can also now access viewing history for a profile.
While the PTC applauds these improvements, Winter said they still do not "protect children from explicit adult content if Netflix is circumventing the system by marketing adult-rated content in the ‘teen’ category, or if they include the harshest profanity in programming they rate TV-14."
Founded in 1995, the Los Angeles-based media watchdog group has aimed to protect children and families from graphic sex, violence, and profanity in the media, in light of their long-term harms, the PTC website states.