Turn it off 

In a recent conversat

In a recent conversation about censorship, a member of the Indiana Civil Liberties Union board said to me, "If parents don"t want their children exposed to something, they should just change the channel." Liberals, Libertarians and free speechers everywhere have got to stop using the "just turn the channel" defense. It"s the intellectual equivalent of "just say no." Both are glib oversimplifications, nearly useless in real life - like shooting rubber bands at tornadoes. If you have a child in your house who listens to the radio as they get ready for school, what station would you switch to? Bob and Tom on Q95 may be playing a prison rape song and Steve and Julie on WENS may be doing their couples quiz segment including the standard question, "Where"s the most unusual place you"ve had sex?" Switch to Wank and O"Brien on Radio Now. Maybe they"re playing the Shaggy hit from a couple years back, "Bangin" on the bathroom floor ..." or a more current favorite, Puddle of Mudd"s "She F--ing Hates Me." And even if you find a more sedate morning show, even the most acceptable pop music won"t give you a break. Recently, after hearing a familiar Sheryl Crow song on WTTS, I heard my 7-year-old daughter innocently singing along, "God"s little gift is on the rag ... jack-off Jimmy, everybody wants more." You"re on your own parents. The right to change the station is a cruel joke. What radio rarely provides is a mature discussion of sex. Instead the tone is "peeka-boo naughty" - usually a sophomoric take on adult subject matter, sometimes sexist, sometimes homophobic. Most of this sexual discussion is fine for adults, a way to let off steam and laugh at our sexual hang-ups. It"s also something that the vast majority of conservatives and liberals alike would rather their 9-year-old wasn"t consuming regularly. But you can switch the station. Go ahead. You"ve got 20 or so to police. How about the Internet? It"s a marvelous technology that unfortunately brings the red light district into your home. Go ahead parents, pay attention. You have millions of Web sites to police, and no filtering technology has yet proven very effective. How about TV? At 8 in the evening, during "family hour," switch through the popular shows and ask yourself which of the storylines you"d feel comfortable hearing your 9-year-old share with his teacher or grandmother. There will be few. Try MTV or VH-1, if you dare. The biggest problem with everything I"ve written so far is that most of you have just dumped me into the Pat Robertson/Jerry Falwell box. (And we liberals have the gall to say conservatives are judgmental.) Truth is, I"ve never run to hold my hands over my children"s ears, or gasped in horror at a sexual reference on TV. I don"t want censorship or boycotts. But at the least I"d like a dialogue in this country about whether the increasingly explicit nature of our media is healthy for children. Mental health professionals tell us there"s a right time to introduce certain knowledge to children. Yet, with our one-size-fits-all media, combined with our dogged faith in free speech at all times and at all costs, we have invited our children into the adult world of sexual understanding and endless exposure to graphic sexual come-ons. I"m not worried about sex education or small children knowing where babies come from. And we all know that five minutes of Howard Stern won"t ruin any 10-year-old, nor will a couple PG-13 movies. But a steady, daily dose of adult sexual content will give us ... well, exactly what we have: a world where our weakest emotional subjects are targets and pregnant 15-year-olds are common. We"ve made immersion in the world of adult sexual knowledge the stamp of maturity. Recently, a friend shared with me a conversation she"d had with her middle school daughter. The young girl explained that oral sex was becoming the safe sex of choice for her friends (12-14 years old) who were trying to deal with their natural urges, keep their boyfriends happy and resist the loss of virginity. Forget about slipping on mom"s high heels or trying cigarettes. There are bigger and more forbidden mountains to climb that are far more tangible evidence of being grown up ... and feel a lot better, too. But just like the child who sang Sheryl Crow lyrics she didn"t understand, at 12 she may be acting out physical contact she likewise doesn"t understand. This is nothing new. But the volume is louder and the throttle"s on the floor. Living with the onset of hormonal change is enough to deal with. Do our kids really need every media outlet constantly taunting them, "Go ahead and do it." In the aftermath of the 1960s sexual revolution, the future looked brighter. As a teen in the "70s, I believed that coming generations wouldn"t be raised feeling ashamed of their bodies or artistic displays of nudity, young women would be sexually free and treated equally and would no longer need to be demeaned as society would see sex as beautiful instead of naughty. It hasn"t worked out that way. The ones with the most freedom are the most drastic voices. They seem unwilling to separate through channel or wavelength that which is best for children and that which adults have a right to consume. And we"re afraid to ask them to or even disapprove, afraid we"ll be called prudes. But in the end, every time we excuse the Howard Sterns and the Bob and Toms of the world with the "change the station" defense, we"re loading ammo for conservatives who want real censorship - thereby hurting our children twice. The bottom line: To truly exercise your right to "switch the station" you"d have to quit your job, "cause it"s gonna take all your time, not just because there are so many choices, but also because nobody else is on your side. So, you"ll have to police a few million Internet sites, 50-60 TV stations, 20-30 radio stations and the latest PG-13 movies whose multimillion dollar ad campaigns are aimed directly at your 5-, 6- and 7-year-olds. Considering the pervasive adult sexual content peddled in our modern media, our freedom to "switch the station" is the most useless freedom we have.

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