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From the early days of radio and movies to the vast resources of today's World Wide Web, the mass media have been an object of fascination for youth. Yet parents, educators, and youth advocates have long been uneasy about many of the media messages that children and teenagers encounter. Popular culture can glamorize violence, irresponsible sex, junk food, drugs, and alcohol; it can reinforce stereotypes about race, gender, sexual orientation, and class; it can prescribe the lifestyle to which one should aspire, and the products one must buy to attain it.
Thus, it isn't surprising that calls to censor the mass media in the interest of protecting youth have been a mainstay of American politics for many years. Attempts to censor gangster movies in the 1930s, crime comics in the 1950s, and TV violence today have produced an almost unending series of laws, regulations, and proposals for restricting the art, information, and entertainment available to youth. The advent of the Internet a medium in which young people are often better versed than their elders has only intensified these concerns.
There are many reasons why censorship is an unsatisfactory response to concerns about the mass media and its effects on youth. Foremost is the First Amendment, which protects the ability of youngsters as well as adults to read, watch, listen, access ideas, and think about them. This First Amendment protection is not simply a legal technicality to be overcome if possible by laws or policies cleverly crafted to avoid constitutional pitfalls. The right to explore art and ideas is basic to a free society. Without it, children and adolescents cannot grow into the thoughtful, educated citizens who are essential to a functioning democracy. www.ntia.doc.gov...