Exposure of Children to Explicit and Violent Materials

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

The question has arisen regarding the effects of adult pornography on children. Children at various ages process information differently, and the psychological sense that something has an erotic meaning comes biologically and culturally with age. (Compare the reaction of a 17 year old and the reaction of his infant brother to the sight of a woman's breasts.) There are variations in how individual children develop intellectually and physically, and there are changes in children's vulnerability at critical stages. Moreover, a particular child's reaction to sexually explicit stimuli will depend to a great degree on that child's personal strengths and familial and social structures.

For obvious ethical reasons, we cannot condone large scale studies of the effects of exposure to pornography on various age groups of children. However, one can surmise from the availability of information we have regarding developmental age vulnerabilities of children that those in the early adolescent age group might be the most susceptible and the least capable of managing social and psychological dilemma produced by exposure to pornography.[4]

Whatever the actual impact may be on children at any age, and given our inability to be scientifically exact on that issue, it seems clear that we have a responsibility to protect children against whatever potential harm may result from such exposure. For this reason, I strongly support laws which prohibit the sale of pornographic materials to children and prohibit children's entry into establishments which specialize in "Adults Only" materials. I am also pleased with the voluntary actions taken by many businesses to limit children's access to sexually explicit materials.

In my opinion, violent materials, sexual or non-sexual, are cause for the most serious concern regarding potential negative effects on children's attitudes and behavior. These materials have become increasingly pervasive in our culture. There is a critical need to seriously consider how we can effectively discourage proliferation of these destructive messages which reach out to children on television, in theatres and even by way of their toys and comic books.

There are some who believe that restrictions placed upon the adult consumption of pornography should be as strong as restrictions on children's consumption of pornography. The rationale given is that anything available to adults will eventually fall into the hands of chidren. Although there is little doubt that childhood curiosity will creatively find access to "forbidden" materials, I do not believe the "equal restriction" perspective is realistic or an avenue of choice. The laws of our society currently place many differentiated restrictions on adults and children. Certainly, the negative effects of alcohol consumption on children who access their parent's liquor cabinets is clearly established. We recommend closer parental supervision and either removal of the alcohol from the home or locking the doors of the liquor cabinet. When children become alcoholics, a growing national concern, recommendations include individual and family counseling, or Alcoholics Anonymous.

We can develop parallel responses in relation to children accessing their parent's pornography-closer parental supervision, use of lock boxes on televisions with cable programming, and mental health or other services for children exhibiting inappropriate or anti-social behavior following the consumption of pornography. Again, while we should not deny the potential harm that pornography may inflict on children who view it, it is extremely important to keep sight of other possible causes of what we consider to be negative behavioral effects. If a child who has been exposed to pornography begins exhibiting inappropriate sexual behavior, we must be extremely careful not to focus solely on the pornography, denying the possibility that the child may have been molested or, on the other hand, denied warm loving relationships within the family unit.

Children who have a well-integrated and reinforced positive sense of self are less apt to accept violent, callous, impersonal images of other people as part of their personal concept of life. Children who have healthy age-appropriate images of affectionate behaviors are less apt to accept perverse or violent destructive images as part of their own internal or external self. They do need social support systems to absorb confusion when it is present and to provide structures that allow them to explore their own responses to such stimuli.

Statement of Deanne Tilton-Durfee

Porn Studies > Meese Report Table of Contents

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