Issue 69, Spring 1998
What do filters for the Internet, removal of teen magazines, and protests about rock lyrics have in common? The unifying theme is the effort to shield minors from certain kinds of ideas and images. Usually they involve sex, but sometimes it’s violence or the right to question religion or authority. The demands to censor these materials are unrelenting. If this issue of Censorship News, like some others, seems to have a theme, it is because efforts to “protect” children from certain ideas and images dominate the free expression agenda.
One reason for this is that the courts have created exceptions to general First Amendment principles to protect against “harm to minors,” and have granted school officials substantial discretion to fulfill their educational mission – even if they sometimes censor otherwise legal materials in the process. Opponents of free expression take full advantage of these exceptions. Thus, information about sex, nude pictures, discussions of sexual expression and sexual repression, allusions to premarital or gay sex, and the like, all come under attack, on the theory that knowledge of these matters is “harmful to minors” or is not “age appropriate.”
It is unrealistic to expect that children can be kept from knowing the truth about the world and human nature. As Judy Blume, a veteran of the censorship wars, says, “Children are not innocent, they are just inexperienced.” They need help from adults to figure out how to act in the face of life’s unpleasant realities – shielding them doesn’t necessarily do them any favors, and usually doesn’t work.
We’re as concerned about protecting children and promoting their interests as those who claim that censorship is “family friendly.” However, we think that children will function better in the world if they are allowed to explore it, with guidance from parents, teachers, and other adults. We cannot restore a “lost innocence” that may never have existed, but we can offer perspectives from our experience and help interpreting the world, flaws and all.