Common Sense Media (CSM) is a San Francisco based non-profit organization that provides education and advocacy to families to promote safe technology and media for children.
Founded by Jim Steyer in 2003, Common Sense Media reviews books, movies, TV shows, video games, apps, music, and websites and rates them in terms of age-appropriate educational content, positive messages/role models, violence, sex and profanity, and more for parents making media choices for their kids. Common Sense Media has also developed a set of ratings that are intended to gauge the educational value of videos, games, and apps. The nonprofit's "Learning Ratings" attempt to assess different types of learning qualities within various forms of media. The new rating system was funded in part by SCEFDN's $10 million learning initiative program.
Donations from foundations and individuals and fees from media partners finance Common Sense Media. Today, the organization distributes its content to more than 100 million US homes via partnerships with a variety of traditional and online media companies. Common Sense Media describes itself as "the nation’s largest membership organization dedicated to improving kids’ media lives". By 2016, the organization had over 65 million unique users and worked with more than 275,000 educators across the United States. In 2016, Charlie Rose reported that Common Sense Media was the United States largest non-profit dedicated to children's issues.
In addition to its English language services, Common Sense Media also offers resources in Spanish.
After founding JP Kids, an educational media company for children, and Children Now, a national child advocacy and media group, Jim Steyer founded Common Sense Media in 2003. In an interview with the New York Times, Steyer said he intended to “create a huge constituency for parents and kids in the same way that Mothers Against Drunk Driving or the AARP has done." The group received $500,000 in seed money from a group of donors including Charles Schwab, George Roberts, and James Coulter.
To assess parents’ concern about their children’s media habits, Common Sense Media commissioned a poll, which found that “64 percent [of parents with children 2-17] believed that media products in general were inappropriate for their families. It said that 81 percent expressed concern that the media in general were encouraging violent or antisocial behavior in children.” The polling firm, Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, said that “only one out of five interviewed ‘fully trusted'’ the separate industry-controlled ratings systems for music, movies, video games and television.”
Common Sense Media reviews thousands of movies, TV shows, music, video games, apps, web sites and books. Based on developmental criteria, the reviews provide guidance regarding each title’s age appropriateness, as well as a “content grid” that rates particular aspects of the title including educational value, violence, sex, gender messages and role models, and more. For each title, Common Sense Media indicates the age for which a title is either appropriate or most relevant. An overall five-star quality rating is also included, as are discussion questions to help families talk about their entertainment. In addition to Common Sense Media's traditional rating system, they also offer a set of learning based ratings, which are designed to determine complex educational values.
Common Sense Media partners with a number of media companies that distribute the organization’s free content to more than 100 million homes in the United States. According to Common Sense Media’s website, the organization has content distribution contracts with Road Runner, TiVo, Yahoo!, Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV, Disney, NBC Universal, Netflix, Best Buy, Google, AOL/Huffington Post, Fandango, Trend Micro, Verizon Foundation, Nickelodeon, Bing, Cox Communications, Kaleidescape, AT&T, and NCM. The organization’s current rating system differs from the system used by the Motion Picture Association of America and the Entertainment Software Rating Board. It has received positive support from parents, and was singled out by US President Barack Obama as a model for using technology to empower parents. Common Sense Media began allowing studios to use their ratings and endorsements in order to promote family-friendly movies in 2014. The first film to use the endorsement was Disney’s Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Common Sense Media has played a role in influencing billions of dollars in government spending on education-related technologies including classroom broadband access and various learning apps. In April 2015, they launched the national advocacy effort, Common Sense Kids Action, to push for certain state and federal efforts to bolster education for children. As of 2016, the Common Sense Education program had grown to include over 300,000 member teachers in approximately 100,000 schools.
In 2009, CSM partnered with Harvard University and the organization Global Kids to organize a three-way communication with parents, teenagers, and educators about issues faced in the online world.
Common Sense has 2 free education programs for schools and other organizations to use with students and parents. The goal of these resources is to help young people learn how to think critically, behave safely, and participate responsibly in today's ever-changing digital media world. More than 75,000 schools and over 158,000 educators around the world are using these resources.
The first product is a Parent Media and Technology Education Program that was launched in late 2008. The program includes a comprehensive library of resources, like tip sheets, workshop slides and script, videos, and discussion guides that educators can use to engage and educate parents about technology issues ranging from media violence and commercialism to cyberbullying and cellphone etiquette.
The second product, launched in 2009, is a K-12 Digital Literacy and Citizenship Curriculum consisting of more than 60 lesson plans, student handouts, videos and interactive components that span three topic areas: Safety and Security, Digital Citizenship, and Research and Information Literacy. The curriculum was informed by research done by Howard Gardner's GoodPlay Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
The resources were developed with support from many foundations, including the Sherwood, MacArthur, and Hewlett Foundations, which enables Common Sense to offer these products to educators for free.
CSM has also teamed with MTV's "A Thin Line" campaign, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, and Yahoo! Safely to conduct a series of town hall meetings for teenagers and parents to discuss online issues that they face; the first was held in Omaha, Nebraska on December 6, 2010, the second took place in Chicago on October 25, 2011. The third town hall meeting will be moderated by MTV News anchor Sway Calloway and is scheduled to take place on October 2 in New York City.
In 2012, CSM released its "Digital Passport," an online curriculum designed to teach children how to safely and responsibly navigate the Internet. The courses can be accessed for free by classroom teachers, who are then able to monitor their students' progress. Digital passport lessons are presented as games that reward progress with badges.
In 2013 CSM launched Graphite, an online resource for teachers that allows them to review and rate educational technology. The project is supported by Chicago philanthropist Susan Crown and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates' BGC3.
The organization also helped Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey and Texas Representative Joe Barton draft legislation that required websites aimed at children under 13 to obtain parental permission before collecting personal information. According to the Wall Street Journal, the group also wanted websites to feature an "eraser button" that would allow children and teens to delete information that they’ve posted online about themselves. The group also favored a ban on "behavioral marketing" to kids—ads targeted at children based on their online activities.
In 2004, CSM pushed for the passing of California’s “Eraser Bill.” As of June 2006, social media websites must allow California children under age 18 to remove their own postings. The same year, they advocated the passing of California Senate Bill 1177, which prohibits the sale and disclosure of schools' online student data. The bill also forbids targeted ads based on school information and the creation of student profiles when not used for education purposes.
Common Sense Media played a major role in the passage of the 2005 California law criminalizing the sale of violent video games to minors. The organization submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court regarding the case Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association (formerly Schwarzenegger v. Entertainment Merchants Association). They published a survey, conducted by Zogby International, which asked 2100 parents whether or not they supported the "video game ban bill" – CA Law AB 1793; results showed that 72% of the respondents expressed support for the bill, and another 75% held negative views of the video game industry when it comes to how they protect kids from violent video games.
On August 12, 2006, Common Sense Media protested to the Federal Trade Commission about the ESRB's rating downgrade of a revised version of Manhunt 2 from "Adults Only" to "Mature". It protested on the basis that the revised version of the game, which was censored to prevent the game from remaining banned in both countries, was still banned in the UK via the ratings given by the British Board of Film Classification (BBFC). They also noted that players could still play a "leaked uncensored version" of Manhunt 2 on modded PlayStation 2, as Take-Two Interactive mentioned. The organization asked the FTC to launch a federal investigation into the ESRB rating process, citing the wide availability of the leaked version and the damage to children that the censored version still had.
Questioning whether CSM media had begun functioning as a lobbying group rather than advocacy group the Los Angeles Times called Common Sense Media "one of the most zealous voices when it comes to encouraging state legislation limiting the sale of ultra-violent games to minors and was "splitting hairs" regarding the difference between lobbying and advocacy in its efforts.
Common Sense Media participated in the FCC's Child Obesity Taskforce in April 2006 and hosted Beyond Primetime, a panel discussion and conference on issues related to kids and media, featuring lead executives from the nation’s top media.
In June 2006, Common Sense Media and The Department of Clinical Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health released a white paper, which outlines the ways that media exposure can impact children's health. The paper evaluated 173 media-related studies from the past 28 years and concluded that "In 80% of the studies, greater media exposure is associated with negative health outcomes for children and adolescents."
In October 2006, Common Sense Media released a white paper compiled from existing research on body image perceptions in kids and teens. The paper states more than half of boys as young as 6 to 8 think their ideal weight is thinner than their current size and that children with parents who are dissatisfied with their bodies are more likely to feel that way about their own.
Common Sense Media's Program for the Study of Media and Children provides data relating to the developmental influence of technology on children.
Common Sense Media's study, titled "Social Media, Social Life: How Teens View Their Digital Lives", was released in June 2012. The study's findings were based on data from 1,030 surveys that were given to adolescents ages thirteen to seventeen. Among the teens surveyed, 49% reported that their preferred method of communication was talking in person, whereas 33% chose texting and 7% chose social media.
In October 2006, Common Sense Media published a study titled "Zero to Eight: Children's Media Use in America", which was conducted to "understand the patterns of media use among young American children." Data for the study was derived from surveys taken by 1,384 parents of children ages zero to eight between April to August 2006. The study reported that over 50% of children under eight years of age have had regular access to a mobile device and that children under two "spend twice as much time watching TV and videos (53 minutes) as they do reading books (23 minutes)." The study also highlighted the influence of the digital divide on young children.
In October 2013, Common Sense Media published its new study, "Zero to Eight: Children’s Media Use in America, 2013". The 2013 data was based on a survey of 1,463 parents. The study reported that 38% of children under two had used a mobile device. The report also stated that seven out of ten children under age eight have used mobile devices.