To permit the V-chip to do its filtering job, parents must first decide what they want it to filter. That means learning the rating system, which can be a daunting task.
The system has two major parts: The first rates programs for age appropriateness; the second, for sex, violence and vulgar language.
There are seven main categories within the age-based ratings, including two specifically used for children, TV-Y, for all children, and TV-Y7, for children ages 7 and older. The other five age-based categories also are rated for their content, with a "V" for violence, "S" for sexual situations, "L" for coarse or crude language, "D" for suggestive dialogue or "FV" for fantasy violence.
It's important to understand how the rating system works, experts say. For example, a show with a rating of TV-Y - acceptable for children of all ages - doesn't mean it's free of violence. Cartoons like "Road Runner" are routinely given this designation.
Once they get a handle on the system, parents can decide what ratings they are comfortable with and program their V-chip to accept programs with those ratings. The device will block all other programs.
If parents decide they want to watch a show that would normally be blocked by the V-chip, they must enter the lock code to deactivate the device.
Vicki Rideout, director of the Kaiser Family Foundation's Program on Entertainment Media and Public Health, says she expects more parents to begin using the V-chip as they learn about it.
"To the extent that parents are concerned that their children are exposed to too much sex and violence on TV, they can do three things: First, take the television out of the kid's bedroom; second, lay down some rules about how much TV is allowed; and, third, explore whether the V-chip is a good option," she said.
If one-fourth of all parents find V-chip helpful, Rideout said, "then I think it's a success."