Kids & Media in America. Donald F. Roberts and Ulla G. Foehr. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. 380 pp. $75 hbk. $25 pbk.
Parental Control of Television Broadcasting. Monroe E. Price and Stefaan G. Verhulst, eds. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002. $79.95 hbk. $39.95 pbk.
Children, Teens, Families, and Mass Media: The Millennial Generation. Rose M. Kundanis. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. $45 hbk. $22.50 pbk.
The Window in the Corner: A Half-Century of Children's Television. Ruth Inglis. London: Peter Owen Publishers, 2003. $27.95 pbk.
In the preface to her delightfully readable history of children's television, journalist Ruth Inglis observes that "no specific person is perfectly suited" to chart the evolution of children's television since its inception in the 1950s. The same might be said about books about young people's media and the various theories and policies related to their production, content, and effects. No specific book can do it all; these topics are far too complex. Nevertheless, like Inglis' Window in the Corner, each of the books reviewed here opens a window on certain aspects of the discussions that swirl up and around young people's media, particularly television. One theme that unites the grouping of titles is the long-held belief that adults-the producers, profiteers, and would-be controllers of media content made for youthful consumption-are responsible for ensuring that such content do no harm and ideally do some good. Price and Verhulst state the concern this way: "The protection of minors from harmful content is a matter of strong public interest. Children, and not only the very young, are more vulnerable to influence than adults and, in the modern world, do not always have the guidance of their parents."
This modern world is particularly challenging for today's parents and policymakers because of the rapidly changing media landscape. Whereas children in the 1950s had at most five or six television channels to choose from, a handful of local radio stations that played their kind of music, and one or two movie theaters within walking or driving distance, today's youth can select from hundreds of media sources from literally all over the world. The sheer volume of content available is mind boggling, and access is not limited to the home. Young people can take their preferred media with them to school, a friend's house, or the mall. Thanks to digital technology, the fidelity of the sights and sounds that travel with them in cars, on bikes or skateboards, and on airplanes can be startling. Media are like the air children and teens breathe; they are their surroundings.
Few people would argue with the principle that children should be protected from harm or that it takes more than parents alone to guarantee such protection. However, building consensus about what constitutes harmful media content, or harmful media for that matter, is an exceedingly difficult task. And, even if consensus were reached about what is good and what is bad for children, one could argue that neither content nor media technology per se is harmful. Rather, it is how children and teens use the media and media content that matters.
At a simplistic level, the key question is this: how does media content get into the hearts and minds of children and teens? What kind of bridge links analog and digital sights and sounds to children's and adolescents' biological and neurological receptors? These are big questions-too big for most media research studies. Not surprisingly, they are left unanswered in these books. Still, each book offers answers to related questions of considerable importance, albeit of narrower scope.
Roberts, a Stanford University professor who has taught and written about youth and media for more than thirty years, and co-author Foehr, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford when their book was published, report on a major survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation. …