Children and streaming don’t always mix

If streaming content is the future, then I need a better filter for my five-year-old daughter. I realized this a few months ago after I searched for the movie Ponyo on Netflix (s nflx) and for weeks afterward saw the movie Pornography appear in the search-results screen, right next to the animated story about a fish who turns into a girl.

Every time I’m streaming music through Pandora (s p) and I get an unedited version of song, or something wholly inappropriate, I’m reminded again that while I may love the ability to get anything on the web, I’m not as fond of the idea that my daughter might inadvertently encounter it. Recently, Netflix made its user interface more kid friendly, by reducing the need for literacy to navigate its child-friendly offerings.

I appreciated this, as does my daughter, who can now watch Hello Kitty or the Backyardigans without intervention from me or my husband on Saturday mornings. And yet, I worry that she might click on something or stream music to her and encounter something she’s not equipped to handle or just not ready to hear.

Netflix has some confusing options available on its service to create profiles that limit someone from accessing content above a certain rating level, but it means the account is locked from viewing mature content –sometimes for longer than the parent may anticipate. Also depending on the device by which one accesses Netflix streaming, other limits can be set. But on the whole, the policing systems are confusing, non-existant, or sometimes impose a waiting period before an adult can reverse it.

I understand that it’s my job to police my daughter, but I can’t help thinking about child-protective caps. There’s an acknowledgment that the harm to children from guzzling a bottle of aspirin makes it worthwhile to put a more difficult cap on it. This isn’t about stopping a determined 10-year-old from getting a headache pill; it’s about stopping a four-year-old from self-medicating out of ignorance. And when something is as ubiquitous as the web, and the content can be very child-unfriendly, the development of some type of filters or barriers seems desirable. Netflix is apparently thinking about creating such a filter, but they haven’t yet.

I’m not talking about something intrusive like a v-chip, or something that couldn’t be circumvented by a determined child. I am most certainly not talking about some kind of government intervention. I’m not as worried about keeping my 12-year-old daughter from discovering R-rated (or even NC-17-rated) movies or realizing that Rihanna likes her sex rough; I’m simply worried about keeping a four-year-old or a six-year-old from encountering things that will upset and confuse her.

I think the Internet and streaming services could use a version of a child-proof cap. Something to corral off acceptable content for children so it’s easier for parents to protect their offspring in an easy manner without forcing that behavior on those who don’t want it. Something as simple as clicking a box to avoid explicit lyrics on Pandora perhaps, or being able to place certain movies available for streaming in an account, while other movies have to be searched for by name.

I would even pay for such features — although there are plenty of startups trying to create safe places on the web such as NetNanny or KidZui, I’m not looking for something so extreme. There are also marketing-dominated virtual worlds where your offspring may be safe from crass language or behavior, but not crass consumerism. I have no idea if I’m alone in my desires, or if this is such a temporary stage that it’s not worthwhile to try to implement any of these features — but I can’t help but think that as well as making information more available, we owe it to ourselves to think about who’ss accessing that information, and give parents to the tools to control how and when their children encounter it, just as we do in the real world.