The figure of the child is at the heart of the majority of debates about media effects. To some extent, this may be inevitable. Since ancient times, the idea of childhood has been invested with far-reaching hopes and anxieties about the future; and, as a highly visible manifestation of modern technology and modern culture, the same is true of the electronic media. The combination of the two is therefore bound to invoke profound concerns about the continuity of the social order and of fundamental human values. It is only natural that we should care about what our children will become.
What remains striking here, however, is that this combination is so often perceived in such negative terms. Children are seen here, not as confident adventurers in an age of new challenges and possibilities, but as passive victims of media manipulation; and the media not as potential agents of enlightenment or of democratic citizenship, but as causes of moral degradation and social decline. Children, it would seem, are unable to help themselves; and it is our responsibility as adults to prevent them from gaining access to that which would harm and corrupt them.
Among the enormous range of material which the media make available to children, it is the category of 'violence' which has, of course, remained the obsessive focus of adult concern. Media violence is seen, not only to encourage children to commit acts of violence, but as itself a form of violence against children, committed by adults whose only motivation is that of financial greed. In Elizabeth Newson's terms, media violence represents a form of electronic 'child abuse', which we must have the courage to regulate and resist. 1