The major focus of this book is to expound the history of ideas, legislation, and litigation to remove sexually offensive and violent material from reaching children. With the exception of occasional brief descriptions of sociological studies trying to find the effects of what children see on their behavior, little in the book directly addresses the actual impact of various kinds of material on children.
The author's conclusion is that there is no clear evidence that sexually explicit and violent material is harmful to children. Current standards in Europe are much looser in this regard, and there is no apparent behavior problem as a result. I'm skeptical that this is the right conclusion to draw.
The book speculates that the reason for this hard-to-observe linkage is that information also empowers children to make better choices, provides catharsis through the material rather than the experience, and isn't taken that seriously by children.
The history of perceptions about sexual practices is also explored.
Anyone who is a lawyer will be familiar with most of the laws and cases described here. Anyone who isn't may find the legal perspective a bit heavy in the book.
What the book doesn't address adequately is the increasing intrusiveness of sexually explicit and violent material into homes. Although there are plenty of references to Monica Lewinsky in the book, the main problem of the news coverage of the White House intern was that it was almost impossible to avoid. Having a teenaged daughter in the house who doesn't like to hear about such things, I was constantly amazed at how we could be watching some ordinary television show and the networks would break in with sexually explicit references to that case. We literally could not keep the "free speech" about this sexual act out of our homes.
Now, if someone were dropping garbage on our front lawn, we could stop it. Why can't we stop more of the same when it offends us? Certainly, we don't have to watch . . . but the material seeks us out more aggressively than that.
Basically, the problem today is that speech no longer attempts to be considerate. There's money in sexually explicit material and violence, and we will continue to see more and more of it.
The book's other weakness is that it doesn't make much of an effort to differentiate between what "children" of various ages should or should not be exposed to. While I favor sex education, there is certainly an age below which it may not be a good idea for all children. Not to have provided the education to older teenagers just causes other problems.
Also, children are individuals. You could on average show that there was no effect from this kind of material, but theoretically made half the children more prone and half less prone to change behavior for the worse. So the lack of evidence in studies doesn't convince me one way or the other.
Like most parents, I can remember times when our boys got overly worked up watching violence on television. If we cut back on those shows, the in-home violence between them was reduced. It was hard to control. If television had been less violent, I think my job as a parent would have been easier with our two sons. But, that's a question of parental influence . . . and not an appropriate subject for censorship. Parents are going to have to be tougher in the future on keeping violence out of the house where their children are overly stimulated or made fearful by it. Both of my daughters have an exaggerated fear for their personal safety based on the ways they see women and girls abused on television and in the movies. I believe that there are studies that bear out this change in perception of personal risk among Americans.
I left this book yearning for more information about how to handle these issues inside a family today.
Where in your life are you getting more information than is good for you? Where are you getting less than you need? How can you create a better balance?
Be open to new learning, while creating a positive mental image of the potential of all!