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How “Safe” is Safe?
Clarifying Criteria for 'Family-Friendliness'
Nicole S. Porter -- August 13, 2003
A great deal of confusion exists for me as an award seeker. I know, based on feedback from other award seekers, that I am not alone in my confusion.  It stems from reading the criteria for many programs, and wondering if my site happens to meet it. The point of contention happens to center around the phrase "family-friendly". By common definition, a family consists of a mother, father, and children, which we can safely assume that family-friendly means... a site is viewable by children.  

Nicole S. Porter

Now, here is where the confusion begins.

Rephrasing the “No” List

Almost every Web award program contains a phrase or two (or twenty) that begin with or contain “no” or “will not be accepted.” This list is used to weed out the sites that the awarding Web master feels are not something that he or she would like to award. While useful, oftentimes this “family-friendly” list causes confusion for an applicant, and leaves them with unanswered questions.

Let's break down the three most common “family-friendly” qualification points that leave room for confusion:

“No profanity (foul language, vulgar speech, etc.).”

For most, this point might seem fairly clear-cut. For me, it's not. I operate a personal creative writing Web site. On this site, in some of my stories and my prose pieces, there is mild cursing. And I do mean mild. They are not words you'd blush to use in front of your mother-in-law; they are words that make my characters more believable. After all, a robber isn't going to use the word “darn” during a holdup.

Personally, I do not consider the use of mild cursing to be “profanity” nor “foul language.” There are those who disagree with me, and have sent replies to my application stating this. Then there are those who do agree with me, and seem somewhat amused when I e-mail and ask for clarification. In both cases, I was left wondering, “Why didn't you just clarify that in your criteria?”

An easy way to prevent confusion would be to state, “If a swear word begins with B, A, S, F, or M, then it's not acceptable, and we consider it to be profanity.”

“No violence or abuse”

Again, this seems pretty straightforward, right? Wrong.

On my Web site, I have a story called “Mary, Mary” which is a partially fictionalized tale of my encounter with a battered woman and her husband. It's a sad tale, and one that has inspired many, many people around the world. Violence is, of course, implied. But, is this considered “violence” under criteria for family-friendliness? I don't believe so, but again, I have received feedback which indicates otherwise. As well, when someone has “No violence against women or children” as part of their qualifications, I'm also left to wonder.

To prevent confusion on this particular point, I suggest using this phrasing instead: “No violence towards people or animals is acceptable, unless written about or depicted in a fashion to teach others about abuse.”

 “No promotion of alcohol or tobacco”

This one is a toughie! Now, we have obvious cases of “promotion” of alcohol and tobacco products and usage, such as a cartoon camel smoking a cigarette being used in an ad campaign. Cartoons appeal to kids, and unless it's satirical, it's awfully hard to view a smoking cartoon as something other than encouraging kids to smoke.

But what about fictional characters who smoke? Not cartoon characters or characters geared towards kids - adult characters in fiction read by those on a certain reading level. Smoking is legal. It's a fairly common habit, so having a smoking character is hardly sensational. Is it promoting tobacco? No, of course not. Much like the use of mild curse words, smoking lends characters reality. I have never smoked a cigarette, nor will I ever make the choice to do so, so the argument that I'm “promoting” the habit holds no water. And while some of my characters do enjoy the occasional wine cooler, again, I am not promoting the use of alcohol. I am painting a canvas of reality. A legal, common reality.

If your program contains a point on tobacco and/or alcohol promotion, a good way to clarify it would be the use of this phrase (or something similar): “The promotion of tobacco and/or alcohol use through cartoons or pictures is prohibited. We do not consider descriptions of smoking and/or alcohol use in the context of fiction to be promotion.”

Why Not Just Ask?

Indeed, why shouldn't I just e-mail each program owner and ask, “My site contains (insert topic), for (insert reason), so does it qualify under your criteria?” The better question here is, why should I ever have to?

As program owners, we have a responsibility to help our potential applicants understand as much about our criteria and our qualification/disqualification points as possible. It's up to us to clarify what we'll accept and what we won't. Granted, you'll probably never cover every eventuality, but why not try to cover as many as possible? Why not prevent those criteria and qualification questions by creating comprehensive answers ahead of time? Believe me, your potential applicants will thank you for it!

Nicole S. Porter
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About the Author
Nicole is from sunny Southern California and is a writer from Southern California. She lives
with her fianc�, Jeff, a massive Lord of the Rings collection, and three fake plants.
 She also owned the retired AS! 5.0 rated Chrysallis Award Program.

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