Cleaning up Toxic Violence: An EcoGenerist Paradigm

Barbara Woodhouse. Handbook of Children, Culture, and Violence. Editor: Nancy E Dowd, Dorothy G Singer, Robin Fretwell Wilson. Sage Publication. 2008.

Our children are growing up in a culture steeped in violence. Yet the presence of violence and children’s exposure to violence is nothing new. Children in every nation and in every age have experienced violence. Killing of animals for food, killing of enemies in self-defense and for territorial conquest, beatings inflicted by the strong on the small and weak in order to gain control and exert power are common features of human societies. Nor are children always the helpless victims rather than the perpetrators of violence. Child soldiers are recruited because they are capable of inflicting senseless violence even more readily than adults (Anderson, 2000; Amnesty International, 2003). Children’s encounters with violence can be beneficial and even transformative. Child freedom fighters in South Africa and in the American South have played a role in both violent and nonviolent struggles for justice (Halberstam, 1998; Woodhouse, 1999).

Even in societies that place a high value on sheltering children from violence, children will inevitably witness and engage in violence. It would be unwise as well as impossible to banish violence completely from children’s environment. Violence plays a necessary role in children’s play, allowing children to practice their survival skills and to confront their fears, both real and imaginary (James, 2004; Woodhouse, 2004). Understanding, controlling, and coping with violence, as a part of human cultural and physical reality, plays an important role in the socialization of children (Garbarino, Dubrow, Kostelny, & Pardo, 1992; Konner, 1991).

Our current reality, nevertheless, is qualitatively and quantitatively different. Today, as the research in this volume illustrates, we are reaching a saturation point of violence in our culture that has measurably altered the environment in which our children are born, grow up, and die. The statistics on children as victims, witnesses, and perpetrators of violence with which Nancy Dowd introduces this volume speak for themselves. As Dale Kunkel shows in this volume, actual physical violence in children’s environment is compounded by the effect of violent words and images. Emotional abuse by caregivers, bullying, and hate speech can inflict severe and lasting harm, according to sources discussed by Naomi Cahn and Susan Limber in this volume. And as Robin Wilson explains, also in this volume, sexual exploitation and abuse, once treated as family secrets, are now understood as forms of violence.

For many decades, poor children of color in urban communities have suffered unconscionably high levels of violence in their streets, schools, and homes (Kotlowitz, 1991). Many would argue that poverty, and the ills that come with it, including unemployment, dislocation, parental stress and lack of family stability, are a form of cultural violence with especially pernicious effects on the young (Kozol, 1991). The culture of violence has now spread to children of all races and classes and every community. With TV, film, and the Internet, the market for violent images has exploded. Purveyors of a wide range of products have found creative ways to market their products to children using images of violence to exploit children’s appetites for excitement and stimulation (Woodhouse, 2004). These products and the culture of violence that surrounds them pose special challenges to policy makers concerned with ensuring a healthy environment for children’s growth. As Diana Russell shows in this volume, discussing pornographic images, new technologies have flooded American culture with representations of violence as never before experienced. Imagined violence can be more graphic than the real thing, made hyper-realistic through digital technologies (Putnam, 1997; Woodhouse, 2004). The nature of children’s relationship with media has also changed, from that of a spectator to an interactive player. Children no longer play a passive role, as they did as consumers of violence in movies and television (Subrahmanyam, 2001). Modern children, playing with video games and Web-based interactive technologies, are able to participate directly in enacting violence.

Cultural critics have identified the growth of a post-modern hyperrealism, in which images can be more powerful than real experiences (Kincheloe, 1998; Woodhouse, 2003). In movies, videos, and games, on our streets and in our homes, image, myth, and reality seem to blend and merge. As Signorelli and Cantor discuss in this volume, myths about race and gender, and about class and religion, feed upon each other and produce more fear and more violence. These forces intersect in ways we do not fully understand. Images become more real than reality and produce a numbing sense of unreality in the face of actual and deadly violence. Many Americans, from researchers to parents to teachers, believe that the culture of violence is toxic to our children and to the society our children will inherit, but we cannot imagine how to begin to fix it.

This is hardly the first time we have been forced by new technologies and new research to confront the unforeseen effects of human activities on living organisms and their environment. And it is not the first time that scientists and citizens have turned to the law as a means to regulate and reform human activity in order to protect a precious, but not infinitely renewable, resource. In the last century, scientists allied with advocates for the environment aroused fellow citizens to the dangers of going blindly forward, spewing poisons into the air and water. In order to meet this challenge, reformers had to rethink and fundamentally reshape the legal framework for regulation of harmful human activities. Scientists and advocates for children have reached a similar crossroads. This chapter suggests a new paradigm for legal responses that draws from the environmental model, arguing for an ecological approach grounded in the principle of generism. Generism takes as its paramount social values the survival and nurturing of the next generation, hence an “ecogenerist” model. This chapter accepts as its predicate the empirical data of those chapters that precede it in this volume. Rather than exploring empirical issues, it focuses instead on critiquing the theoretical paradigm we use to inform legal problem solving and policy making.

First, there is a brief discussion of current legal approaches and their shortcomings, focusing in particular on barriers raised by the First Amendment. The second part is a description of the environmental paradigm that supports an ecological approach. Part III of this chapter discusses how ecological theories and concepts, including deep ecology, ecofeminism, sustainable development, and others, could be adapted to think about issues of children, culture, and violence. An ecological model requires a description or principle of the ecological “good” to be achieved, and this chapter argues for the child-centered principle of generism as a definition of “the good.” Part IV articulates a new ecogenerist paradigm. In the last part of the chapter, suggestions are offered concerning how this paradigm might be applied to two specific issues of children and violence: regulation of violent images on the Internet, and dealing with the problem of youth violence.

Regulating Harmful Conduct and Toxic Images: The First Amendment Speech/Conduct Dichotomy

Traditionally, criminal laws deal with persons who intentionally hurt a child, while tort laws deal with the unintentional harms inflicted, for example, by a manufacturer who produces a dangerous toy or a toxic chemical. Elaborate child protective services systems have been designed to assist victims of family violence and parental neglect. The juvenile justice system evolved to protect immature children caught up in violence from the full force of criminal sanctions. These existing systems fail children in many ways. They allow children to fall into the cracks between the systems, they foster stigmatizing labeling (and mislabeling) of children, and they often ignore the larger social and cultural context, focusing narrowly on punishing the perpetrator rather than assisting the victim. However imperfect their functioning, these systems share one common feature: they recognize the central role of law in protecting children from conduct and substances that inflict both short-term and long-term harm.

Attempts to regulate production and dissemination of violent images present challenges of a different kind. As discussed by Craig Anderson in this volume, violent images can harm children by normalizing violence. Ironically, violent images can even make perpetrators out of child victims of overexposure to violence by increasing aggressive tendencies and reducing inhibitions.

But images have traditionally been shielded from regulation by the First Amendment (Burstyn, Inc. v. Wilson, 1952). While the First Amendment speaks of freedom of the press and of free speech, the Supreme Court of the United States has held that images as well are a protected form of speech, shielded by the First Amendment (Ross, this volume). The Supreme Court, in interpreting the free speech clause of the First Amendment, has drawn a distinction between conduct (which, if harmful, can be regulated) and speech (which presumptively is not harmful and therefore cannot be regulated) (R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul, 1992). The law generally distrusts regulation of speech as government censorship, inimical to values of free expression and healthy debate in a democratic society (Brandenburg v. Ohio, 1969). But the Supreme Court has recognized that children may need protection from speech that is appropriate to adults (Ginsberg v. New York, 1968). Shielding children from pornography, for example, is a compelling state purpose, and limitations on children’s access that collaterally interfere with adults’ access to pornographic materials may survive if narrowly tailored and necessary to the child-protective purpose (Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 2004).

As John Cech (this volume) has noted, scary and violent images are an integral part of children’s culture. Examples abound, from the Bible’s Slaughter of the Innocents to the carnivorous wolf in Little Red Riding Hood. However, modern technologies of television, film, video games, and the Internet are changing every aspect of children’s exposure to the culture of violence. The methods of delivery, the frequency of exposure, and the dosages of violent imagery are unprecedented in children’s culture (Woodhouse, 2004). Modern children are also more likely to consume violent images without an adult present to act as a mediator or filter (Wilcox, 2004). Unlike the mass media, a live storyteller can actively interpret the meaning of violent images and calibrate the levels of violence to the child’s ability to absorb them.

Efforts in the United States to regulate children’s exposure to problematic images often seem to be motivated more by concerns about children and sex than about children and violence (Saunders, 1996). Nevertheless, film, CD, DVD, and videogame ratings systems; television V-chips; and computer filters have all included high levels of violence as an element in determining whether images are appropriate for consumption by children (Woodhouse, 2004). Congress has regulated the public airwaves of radio and television (Minow & Lamay, 1995). But most laws or systems of regulation operate primarily at the level of the individual child, rather than regulating violent images at their source. An underage child may be blocked from entering an X-rated film by the movie theater, but this is an exception to the general rule of parental control. It is left to the parent to decide whether to install a V-chip or computer filter and parents are expected to consult ratings to determine whether a given CD or electronic game is harmful to their child.

A look at First Amendment theory explains why this has been the preferred approach. The concept of “prior restraint” is anathema to First Amendment doctrine (near v. Minnesota, 1931). Suppressing ideas before they can be expressed is far more dangerous to democracy than punishing a speaker if his or her speech actually produces a harmful and dangerous effect. Scholars and judges worry that punishing speech after the fact may have a “chilling effect” on free speech at its source, but the antidemocratic impact of censorship is obvious and direct (new York Times, Co. v. U.S., 1971). Censorship allows government to block the free flow of information and ideas necessary to a robust democracy.

Reinforcing these First Amendment concerns about direct government intervention in speech is the strong American tradition of parental autonomy in deciding who and what the child will see and hear. Supreme Court cases establish that, absent a compelling reason, the family, not the state, should decide how children should be raised (Meyer v. Nebraska, 1923; Pierce v. Society of Sisters, 1925; Troxel v. Granville, 2000). Given this background, it is easy to see why we assume that informing parents of the potential harms from exposure to age-inappropriate speech is the method of choice for regulating children’s exposure to harmful images. Yet parents may be unwilling or unable to monitor their children’s media exposure (Woodhouse, 2004). Media violence is so pervasive that it defies efforts of even the most vigilant and affluent families to restrict children’s exposure. Reliance on parental monitoring leaves too many children at risk. Moreover, children have a claim in their own right to our protection. While parents have both the right and the duty to protect their children from harm, the state also has a compelling interest in protection of children (Prince v. Massachusetts, 1944). Respect for family autonomy and for parental authority should not prevent state action to support parents in this endeavor, and even to override parental inaction if necessary to protect children from pervasive harms. Early laws prohibiting child labor foundered on concerns that such laws would impermissibly infringe on parents’ authority, until it became clear that only a broad regulatory approach would be sufficient to protect children and their families from economic exploitation (Woodhouse, 1993). As the law has long recognized, society as a whole has a tremendous stake in seeing children grow into stable, healthy, and constructive adults. Instead of looking at the harm of cultural violence through the narrow lens of a classic First Amendment analysis, or reverting to notions of children as private property of their parents, we should draw upon our increasing knowledge of the interconnections between mind and body, as well as between individual, family, and community interests.

An Environmentalist Paradigm

Legal scholars and scientists banded together in the 20th century to address pervasive problems caused by new technologies that seemed to evade effective regulation. The impetus for their actions was the realization that the impact of these seemingly discrete and previously unregulated acts posed a threat to the natural environment. They popularized the notion of ecological systems as a way of understanding the interconnections between zones of human and natural activity. Environmentalism focused social and legal attention on the preservation or destruction of conditions conducive to a healthy planet and, ultimately, to survival of the species (Abbey, 1988; Carson, 1962). In this section, I will draw upon environmentalist concepts and theories to shed light on how we might approach toxic violence.

An Ecological Model of Child Development

The notion of studying children through the lens of ecology is far from new. Pioneers in child psychology long ago adopted this metaphor and it has become a mainstay of multisystemic theory, as Mark Fondacaro in this volume explains, teaching us to use a holistic approach for children and families in crisis. Scholars of legal theory can draw upon the ecological theory of child development expounded by social scientists such as Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) and James Garbarino (1985, 1995). An ecological theory envisions children at the center of concentric circles of human and natural systems. Rather than proposing normative principles such as rights and duties, an ecological theory is descriptive of the world as the child knows and experiences it. It examines not the individuals in isolation from their environment, but the nature and quality of the relationships and environments (Garbarino, 1985).

In an ecological theory of child development, the focus of study is on “systems,” in recognition of the importance of context and flux. “Microsystems” are those environments that directly touch and include the child. They range from the most intimate systems, such as the family, to larger environments such as the school, the peer group, and the neighborhood (Pearson, 2001). These microsystems can be supportive or destructive, and they may serve as the gateway to a larger world or they may fail to prepare the child to survive in that world (Pearson, 2001). The child’s family as defined by law may be quite different from the child’s family system as defined by ecological theory, as when a child lives with someone other than a parent and has no physical or emotional connection to his legal parents. An ecological approach teaches us to look at the world through the child’s eyes, seeing as family those individuals whom the child knows as family.

Microsystems generally overlap. The overlaps between microsystems constitute a “mesosystem” (Pearson, 2001). For example, a mesosytem exists where school and family, and peer group and neighborhood, intersect. In a very simple society, children’s nurturing and socialization all occur within the extended family, and the political unit such as the tribe is seen as an extension of the family; in this instance, the child’s school, family, and neighborhood microsystems might overlap almost completely, erasing the borders between micro- and mesosystems. Modern industrial societies are not so simple. Most children move back and forth between different microsystems during a typical day. If children are lucky, the relationships among microsystems are consistent and mutually supportive of the child’s development, as when parents work closely and collaboratively with responsive community schools. Or microsystems may be in conflict, as when schools and families or parents and peer groups make inconsistent demands and promote inconsistent values. When this happens, children are caught in a double bind between expectations of family and school, peer group, and neighborhood (Pearson, 2001).

Encircling the micro- and mesosystems are the “exosystems.” These are systems in which the child is not directly involved but which nonetheless affect the child’s life (Pearson, 2001). For example, a child who has never ventured into the parent’s workplace is nevertheless affected by whether the parent’s employer offers flexible hours that promote quality time with the child and adequate health care benefits that include coverage for dependent children (Dowd, 2004). The child’s relationship to various systems is not static but changes as the child’s circumstances change. The child protective system (CPS), for example, may be an exosystem for most children—indirectly influencing but not directly touching their lives. But on the day a child is removed from his or her home and placed in shelter care, CPS becomes the dominant microsystem, entangled and forming mesosystems with the child’s other microsytems of family, school, and community.

Perhaps the most important concept for purposes of this discussion is the macro system. In ecological theories of child development, all of the systems identified above— micro, meso and exo—are embedded in a cultural “macro-system.” A cultural macrosystem is described as the patterning by history, power, and ideas of the broader society in which the child lives (Pearson, 2001). All of our collective prejudices, politics, and ideologies, and our religious and moral values together create the cultural macrosystem (Pearson, 2001). The concept of the macrosystem allows us not only to place children in the context of the intimate systems that affect them, but also allows us to examine the pervasive influences of surrounding political, religious, and economic systems in children’s lives.

In my paradigm of the child’s ecosystem, the child is embedded in a system represented by concentric circles, sometimes overlapping, but all centered on the child. Some are circles that form part of the larger environment that surrounds the child (exosystems), and other circles represent places where children actually can be found interacting with others and the world (micosystems). Thus, no two-dimensional static drawing can capture the dynamic nature of the ecological approach. In contrast to the common wisdom that extols “the balance of nature,” flux is actually the defining characteristic of a healthy ecosystem, as many environmentalists have concluded (Wiener, Botkin, Frampton, Norton, & Profeta 1996).

Where does law figure in this dynamic ecological system? It hardly seems like a distinct exosystem because it operates at all levels of social interaction. I have argued that “the law” provides an interface of the macrosystem and the other systems, and that its influence and action permeate throughout the ecosystem (Woodhouse, in press). Law is produced by the macrosystem and its function is to circulate the macrosystem’s dominant values and power relations throughout the other systems, much as water systems carry elements and particulates from oceans to clouds to rain into rivers, creeks, and underground aquifers. There are many sources of law within the macrosystem, formal and informal. Together, they produce normative commands that translate values, ideology, and power into human action and restraint (Weyrauch, 2001).

An Ecological Approach to Issues of Children, Culture, and Violence

How does an ecological approach differ from a more traditional approach for dealing with issues relating to children, and specifically, to issues generated by violence and children’s well-being? An ecological model does not approach children, parents, and the government as separate autonomous actors, but rather as immersed together in a sea of culture and inevitably interconnected to each other (Woodhouse, 2004). An ecological model modulates the distinctions between private and public by recognizing that all systems are interrelated and all systems, including the family, affect the public good (Woodhouse, in press). Measuring the health of these systems involves measuring the well-being of individuals within these systems. Like the “miner’s canary,” children suffer first, and their distress provides an early warning of an environment that is toxic to human life (Guinier & Torres, 2002). How do we determine whether children’s ecosystems are healthy or toxic? In law, we have tended to approach this question through the lens of individual responsibility, blaming or praising the family for the child’s failure or success. Researchers in fields like public health and social welfare employ an ecological approach toward measuring child welfare. Data about infant mortality, immunization, and poverty rates in various geographic or political regions measure the environmental and social risks to children from all sources, not just from failures of personal responsibility (Guinier & Torres, 2002).

Internationally, legal advocates draw upon the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to measure both tangible and intangible aspects of children’s well-being (United Nations [UN], 1989). The CRC represents an international consensus regarding the basic outlines of children’s essential human rights. These include the rights to equality, dignity, and autonomy commensurate with the child’s emerging capacities (UN, 1989). Social rights such as adequate food, health care, and education are identified as rights of children and as owed to children by adults and governments (UN, 1989). Children are viewed in context, with the realization that maternity and neonatal care, parental employment, housing, and access to education are all environmental factors that determine whether children do well or poorly. The international community uses this ecological approach in thinking about children’s rights and governments’ responsibilities toward children.

If adopted in the United States, this approach would require American law and policy makers to examine the state of the environment, specifically children’s environment, and, if the environment is found to be toxic and unhealthy to children, would mandate a response. Such an examination would occur for all the systemic levels described above. From the microcosm of child custody laws to the macrosystem of child health policy, we would examine not only the conduct and condition of individual children and their parents, but also the ecological frameworks in which children and parents are embedded. Instead of treating children as private property of their parents, assigning to parents the duty to look after their welfare, we would treat children as a natural resource the protection of which is critical to the future of human societies and the responsibility for which is shared by all. Where the concept of children as private property implies that parents are responsible for the well-being of children, a natural resource perspective emphasizes that we all must be held accountable for our success or failure in caring for the next and future generations. This approach would focus on systemic prevention rather than on individualized punishment after harms have occurred.

Why the American Macrosystem is So Toxic to Children

Using an ecological paradigm would also begin to explain why children fare so poorly in one of the most affluent societies in world history. The dominant macrosystem in the United States is characterized by a number of mutually reinforcing values and ideologies. These include a belief in individual responsibility, the myth of individual autonomy, a belief in free market efficiency as the measure of good, and faith in consumption as the engine of the free market (Fineman, 2004; Woodhouse, in press). The American macrosystem is also characterized by deep-seated prejudices that divide people along lines of race, class, gender, and increasingly of religion (Guinier & Torres, 2002; Pew Research Center, 2005; Roberts, 2002). Americans embrace a success ethic, whether called survival of the fittest or a “meritocracy,” that rejects as unworthy those who falter in climbing the ladder of success (McCord, 1997). This chapter uses the shorthand of “privatization” to describe the political, economic, and cultural directions in which these beliefs and ideologies have driven us. According to scholars as diverse as Martha Fineman (2004) and Amitai Etzioni (1999), Americans have developed a romanticized affair with the notion of the private and the individual, and have undervalued the public and the collective.

The autonomy myth and the focus on individual responsibility are deeply unfair to children. Very young children are clearly not autonomous nor can they be charged with responsibility for their condition in life (Singer, this volume). Children make no “choices” about whether to be born, about the families into which they are born, or about the caretaking resources available or unavailable to them. Whatever chance they may have at achieving autonomy depends on the emotional and material resources invested in them during their childhood. Yet the dominance within the American macrosystem of ideals such as the autonomy myth, market efficiency, and the value of consumption colors every aspect of the child’s life. These ideals influence how family is defined, how childhood is defined, and how the good parent is defined, even by parents themselves (Woodhouse, 2004). Parents who work double shifts in order to provide their child with the largest house and the latest technological toys, are living out the myths of a macrosystem that measures the success of families by where they live and what they own, rather than by the quality of interactions within those homes and around those possessions. These same myths dictate how we respond to poor children and children who engage in or are victims of violence (Polakow, 2000).

To the extent we see victimization and violence as private failures of the family in raising and protecting the child, this viewpoint artificially confines us to solutions that ignore the systems in which children live. School shootings and sexual predators do not exist in isolation from the gun culture, the schoolyard bully, and the marketing and consumption of child pornography. Adopting an ecological approach, on the other hand, would require us to examine critically our individualist assumptions and confront the ways they affect the lives of children. Ecologists study habitats and the systems within them. Thus, ecology provides a very different way of looking at problems than the American legal paradigm of volition and choice, freedom and lack of freedom that characterizes our criminal, tort, contract, and even family law. An ecological approach poses questions that are more relevant to children’s lives. It asks us to recognize the interaction of systems and the inevitable impact of systems on the organisms that inhabit them.

Adapting the Lessons of Environmentalism to Children, Culture, and Violence

Adopting an ecological model may draw attention to a toxic cultural macrosystem. However, it cannot, alone, transform the macrosystem. In order to affect the macrosystem, scientists and advocates for children need to articulate and promote an environmental ethics for children. This process will involve either rethinking and rejecting, or consciously reaffirming, ethical frameworks that pervade our laws and policies (Flournoy, 2003). The literature of environmentalism is rich with examples of ecological thinking that might inform that process.

First, environmentalists have utilized the notion of “deep ecology” to express the need for a seismic change in how we conceptualize problems. Deep ecology advocates dealing with environmental problems by diving into the depths rather than swimming on the surface (Naess, 1973, 1989). Deep ecology challenges the dominant Western paradigm of Newtonian science by approaching nature as something to be divided into parts and classified according to a set of rules based on mathematics and logic (Merchant, 1992). Deep ecology adopts instead a relational model that sees all organisms, including but not limited to man, as intrinsically interrelated. Deep ecology acknowledges the key roles of diversity and symbiosis. In addressing the natural environment, deep ecology looks at all the organisms, plants as well as animals, that share the environment and promotes the equal right to live and blossom of all organisms as a fundamental value (Merchant, 1992; Naess, 1973, 1989).

Deep ecology confronts the fallacy of a phenomenon environmentalists have labeled as “human exemptionalism” (Naess, 1973, 1989). Human exemptionalism is a form of environmental hubris that has characterized periods of abundance and expansion in human history. This paradigm assumes that human societies are exempt from the consequences of ecological principles and environmental constraints that threaten every other organism. Deep ecology recognizes that humans are subject to the same ecological laws and restraints as other organisms (Merchant, 1992). Ignoring the linkages and feedbacks that connect humans and the ecosystems in which they are embedded courts disaster. The same is true for ignoring changes to the ecosystems in which children are embedded.

Another strand of environmentalism that seems singularly relevant to children’s environmentalism is “ecofeminism” (Merchant, 1992). The ecofeminist movement honors reproduction construed in its broadest sense to include the continued biological and social reproduction of human life and the continuance of all forms of life on Earth. A commitment to continuance of life on Earth makes explicit the linkages between what we do in the present and what happens in our children’s future. It also emphasizes the connection between the actions and fates of individuals and the future of the relationships and ecological communities that are necessary for reproduction to occur and for the next generation to survive and thrive (Merchant, 1992). Both the values of ecofeminism and the fallacy of human exemptionalism should infuse our approach to issues of violence.

“Sustainable development” is a third strand of environmental thought that may prove relevant in thinking about our approach to children, culture, and violence. Sustainable development seeks to convert ecologically destructive development into environmentally sound and sustainable production and reproduction (Merchant, 1992). Its tactics are small in scale and intimate in design. For example, “biological control”— the use of native or natural organisms to fight invasive bacteria, plants, and animals— is presumed safer and more sustainable than insecticides or antibiotics (Merchant, 1992). This approach may have something to teach us about designing programs to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect. Adherents of biological control, rather than attempting to eradicate a pest with powerful chemicals, will surround the field with undeveloped woods that harbor its natural enemies (Merchant, 1992). By the same token, offering quality preschools and other community-based services to at-risk children may be more effective and less costly, on an ecological scale over time, than incarcerating them for antisocial behavior when they reach adulthood (Yoshikawa, 1995).

Another concept, “restoration ecology,” aims to restore the natural balance destroyed by human interventions. In designing remedies for past destruction, studying natural patterns and replicating them allows us to utilize the wisdom inherent in evolution (Merchant, 1992). The concept of restoration ecology mirrors the philosophy behind tested and successful approaches like community-based family systems therapy as an environmentally focused response to problems of delinquent youths, as described by Mark Fondacaro in Chapter 18 of this volume. “Bioregionalism” draws attention to the localized nature of ecological habitats and the importance of understanding their unique features and intrinsic diversity (Merchant, 1992). Bioregionalism in children’s policy suggests a preference for policies that are culturally competent, and that recognize and build upon the uniqueness of the child’s cultural, ethnic, or religious community.

Environmentalists also have much to teach advocates for children about avoiding paralysis in the face of scientific uncertainty and natural flux (Färber, 2003). The most common critique leveled at the “best interest” standard, which governs many legal decisions affecting children, is that it is too “indeterminate” and thus invites ideologically driven decisions. Many critics doubt whether we can separate scientific facts about children’s welfare from subjective values (Woodhouse, 2004). Critics of regulation of media violence to protect children fear that we will be unable to distinguish toxic violence from speech that should be protected (Ashcroft, 2004). Environmentalists, rather than rejecting science as useless because it is inconclusive, would accept as a given that science is inherently value laden and incapable of precisely measuring or predicting the impacts of regulation on ecosystems. The “precautionary principle,” made explicit in various environmental treaties and conventions, holds that we should not require scientific certainty about the precise effects of a course of conduct before regulating it, if the possible risks of leaving it unregulated may be serious or irreversible (United Nations Environment Programme, 1992). The precautionary principle when applied to issues of children, culture, and violence, suggests that we know enough about the harms of exposure to media and domestic violence and the corrosive effects of concentrated poverty to justify taking focused action to combat them. The precautionary principle would support action to reduce levels of cultural violence, despite scientific uncertainties about the costs and benefits, whenever the risks of inaction appear to be sufficiently high.

Tempering this principle are the related concepts of “ecological dynamics” and “adaptive management.” Ecological dynamics recognizes that systems are not static or even, as commonly assumed, in balance. Ecological systems are in flux, because they are open systems and affected by complex outside influences. Policies that assume that existing conditions represent an immutable natural order lack the necessary resilience to respond to change and may eventually break down from Stressors they previously appeared to tolerate or absorb (Bosselman, 2001; Holling & Sanderson, 1996). As applied to our responses to the culture of violence, the cautionary principle, an appreciation of ecological dynamics, and a commitment to adaptive management suggest we must be willing to make mistakes and willing to correct them. Our assumptions and intuitions about what works and what does not work can be tested and adjusted to reflect new realities. Policies and programs may be evaluated under widely accepted measures to determine their effectiveness (Brooks-Gunn and Duncan, 1997; Gomby, Larner, Stevenson, Lewit, & Behrman, 1995). Theories, like witnesses, can be cross-examined and impeached, and rejected if they lose their persuasive power or are overtaken by new scientific discoveries.

Not only the theories but also the successes and failures of environmentalists have much to teach us. The experiences of environmentalists provide a precedent for the sort of paradigm shift that will be needed to affect the macrosystem. Environmentalists’ 20th-century challenge to an individualist model of regulation of the environment was at least partially successful, shifting the terms of debate away from a discourse of individual responsibility and individual liberty toward appropriate interventions to protect clean air and water and to preserve environments for the healthy growth of humans and other species (Tarlock, 2004). Advocates who propose an environmentalist approach to the culture of violence should be heartened by the knowledge that radical changes have occurred in other areas related to family law and policy. We have rejected laws that constructed relations between the sexes as a rigid, gendered hierarchy (On v. On, 1979). We have challenged traditional family law principles that treated children as the quasi-property of their parents (Woodhouse, 1992). A child-centered paradigm, the “best interest of the child” standard, is now the dominant principle of family law. This more child-centered and ecologically sound ideal provides a foundation for constructing a more effective and child-centered response to the culture of violence (American Law Institute, 1998).

A Child-Centered Environmentalist Paradigm: Ecogenerism

Science measures outcomes. But it does not define what outcomes are valued or how. It does not define “the good” (Flournoy, 2003). In earlier writings, this author proposed a new “ism” called “generism” to express the paramount value we should place on nurturing the next generation (Woodhouse, 1993). A generist theory places children at the center of society and sees the highest goal of society as fostering the growth of the next generation. In making their case, generists adopt and adapt many of the concepts of feminism (Woodhouse, 1993). For example, they utilize practical reasoning to interrogate existing norms; they ask “the child question”—how have children’s agency and interest been overlooked?—and they employ oppositional narrative, telling the stories of marginalized groups that challenge majority assumptions and stereotypes (Woodhouse, 1993).

In recent work, this author has begun to reframe the concept as “ecogenerism”— much as the notion of feminism inspired ecofeminism (Woodhouse, 2004). Ecogenerism is closely related to ecofeminism, which sees reproduction, rather than production, as the primary work of human society. Ecofeminism’s woman-centered perspective moves the work of reproduction, done in large part by women, from the periphery to the center of society (Merchant, 1992). Ecofeminism challenges environmentalists and policy makers to examine the impact of policies with particular attention to their effects on the ecology of reproduction, in humans as well as plants and animals. In preserving habitats for the survival of wild salmon, for example, it is clearly not enough to count individual fish without paying attention to their role in the cycle of reproduction. The same is true of humans. A stark example of an ecofeminist natural disaster occurred in the tsunami that struck in the Indian Ocean in 2004. Because of their smaller size and lesser ability to resist the flood waters, far more women than men perished, leaving many affected communities bereft of not only wives and mothers but also of essential resources for reproduction and nurturing (“Report: Tsunami,” 2005). Manmade disasters occur when societies fail to value the work of reproduction in their estimates of costs and benefits, as when a society fails to provide health care to pregnant women and infants or devalues the social worth of female babies (“Grim motives,” 2003; “Report: Tsunami, 2005; Stark, 2003).

Ecogenerism, like ecofeminism, is a particular brand of environmental ethics. It is an ethics focusing on children’s welfare and the future of children as the core definition of “the good,” as opposed to other measures such as maximizing the greatest good for the greatest number or market efficiency. Ecogenerists, for example, might call for an environmental impact statement examining the impact of policies and conduct not only on existing children but also on future generations.

Ecogenerism, however, must borrow the insights of deep ecology and strive to dig deeper than generism. It must see “the good” in more natural and ecologically sensitive terms than a traditional legal standard of best interest of the child would encompass. Ecogenerism would examine policies toward the culture of violence with reference to communities as well as individuals, and with reference to mesosystems, microsystems, and exosystems, rather than with reference to narrow issues of parental success or failure (Woodhouse, 2004). Ecogenerists would identify not only the production of new generations, but also their flourishing and growth, as the most important outcome to be gained from fostering the stability, integrity, and beauty of the community (Flournoy, 2003). Of crucial importance, ecogenerism would take a child-centered perspective and would define “flourishing” through children’s eyes and children’s experiences. Rather than assuming that children serve as the passive objects of others’ actions, ecogenerism would respect the ecology of childhood and the central role that children themselves play in their own development.

Empirical research would occupy a pivotal role. Imagine a regulatory scheme to preserve the environment for children’s healthy development and flourishing that relied on established evidence-based benchmarks similar to those in various environmental laws (American Forest and Paper Association, Inc. v. EPA, 2002). For example, courts have invalidated government policies regarding endangered species such as grizzly bears and trumpeter swans that purported to adequately protect these species as required by environmental laws, but ignored the weight of the scientific evidence (Carlton v. Babbit, 1995; Friends of the Wild Swan v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Sew., 1997; Fund for Animals v. Norton, 2003; Fund for Animals v. Williams, 2003; Moden v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Sew., 2003;). Imagine a judge adjudicating child and family regulations who could strike down ideologically driven proposals (whether from the left or the right) as politically motivated and contrary to the weight of scientific evidence. Obviously, as scientists recognize, science itself is not value neutral or apolitical (Doremus, 2004). Nevertheless, science provides more objective benchmarks to the fact-finder than do opinion and ideology, which cannot be held accountable to empirical research standards.

Applying Ecogenerist Theory to Issues of Children, Culture, and Violence

How would ecogenerism work on specific issues? In this section, I will apply an eco-generist analysis to explore two issues that present special challenges to legal attempts to protect American children from a culture of violence. One is the problem of toxic violence on the Internet. The second is the problem of youth violence as an adaptive response to a violent environment.

Cleaning Up Toxic Internet Sites

As discussed earlier, while alarm has been expressed about the effects of violent media on children, the legal response has been limited by our assumptions that images that assault the senses, as opposed to physical assaults, are presumptively harmless. As we have seen, the legal response to regulation of violent images has been framed in terms of First Amendment freedoms of speech. Images are treated as a form of protected expression unless they are shown to be obscene— defined as materials appealing to the prurient interest and lacking any redeeming social value. The literature on the First Amendment is vast, and the cases relating to children have been discussed in depth by Catherine Ross in this volume. I agree with Ross that children are entitled to First Amendment protections of their access to information and culture on the Internet and elsewhere. I also see the danger that “protecting our children” can be invoked by a dominant political majority as a justification for ideological censorship of controversial but truthful and valuable ideas and information (UN, 1989).

But I disagree with the notion that, in order to protect free speech, we must accept our inability to regulate the current flood of violent images when we have solid evidence of their harmful effects on children’s healthy development. While violence is an issue that cuts across all the media, the Internet poses special problems. The Internet is an ecological system and consequently evades an analysis based solely on individual responsibility. Control of the Internet is decentralized. Anyone can post an image. With the exception of obscene materials, including child pornography, there are few legal limits on what may be posted. Due to the ease of Internet transmission, there has been a surge in child pornography, especially of images involving violence, with 20,000 images of child pornography posted every week. (Malcolm, 2003). Purveyors of sex and sexual violence go to great lengths to reach out to consumers with pop-up ads and e-mails and employ techniques such as “mousetrap-ping” to prevent those who enter from exiting their sites (Malcolm, 2003). Parents are encouraged to install filtering software to block children’s access to inappropriate sites. However, these filters only block 1 in 3 sites from accidental access. Computer-savvy children who want to defeat the filters are extremely adept at doing so, gaining access to 9 out of 10 blocked sites in one Kaiser Foundation study (Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 2004).

Congress has enacted several different schemes to address children’s access to objectionable materials, but all have come up against the barrier of First Amendment doctrines as interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court. The most recent round of legislation to reach the Court was the Computer Online Protection Act (COPA) (1998). COPA imposed a fine of up to $50,000 and a prison term of up to 6 months on operators of Web sites that allow children to access materials that are “harmful to minors.” Web sites that established a credit card, pin number, or electronic verification system to verify a patron’s age would be protected from liability. The Supreme Court, in Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union (2004), held that this scheme was “overbroad” and violated the First Amendment. First Amendment doctrine requires the use of the least restrictive alternative. Since COPA’s scheme of user verification impinged on adults’ access to protected speech, its defenders would have to show that no less restrictive means existed to protect children. The Court remanded the case, asking the trial court to address whether filters provided a less restrictive and yet effective means to achieve congressional ends. According to the Court, filters posed a lesser free speech threat because they regulated speech at the receiving end, rather than at the source (Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 2004).

Another First Amendment principle that leads to regulation at the receiving end rather than the source is a concern for pluralism and respect for the diversity of American cultural and social norms. Speech and other forms of expression are viewed, quite properly, through a cultural lens. Courts have measured whether a particular material was obscene with reference to the sensibilities of the community, rather than using more objective criteria such as evidence of harmful effects on the viewer (Miller v. California, 1973). The courts have looked to local community standards to determine whether an image merited First Amendment protection or could be suppressed as patently offensive and lacking redeeming social value. Time, place, and manner restrictions have also been upheld. Thus, an adult-themed film that could be shown in New York City near Times Square might be kept out of theaters in an Iowa City suburb (City of Renton v. Playtime Theatres, 1986). The Internet evades such localized regulation, since it crosses geographical and political boundaries and reaches consumers in their homes in every corner of the world.

In summary, under a First Amendment analysis, whether an image may be regulated may depend on whether it offends community values rather than whether it contains objective evidence of harmful effects. Even where an image is recognized as toxic to children, the First Amendment approach typically rejects regulation at the “source” and favors regulation by individual families downstream. Regulation is confined to the alternative that is least restrictive of individual rights of adults to view the images, rather than framed as a search for the most effective means, given the balance of individual rights and societal costs and benefits.

At least one critic of treating violent images as protected speech has argued that depictions of extreme violence are by their very nature obscene. Thus, regardless of the age or developmental stage of the viewer, violent images that are patently offensive and lack redeeming social value may be suppressed by government without infringing upon the First Amendment (Saunders, 1996). While this author agrees with many of the points made by those who argue that violent images should be subject to regulation as obscenity, the First Amendment framework seems inherently ill suited to addressing the seriousness and the complexity of the effects on children of growing up in a culture saturated with violence. Ultimately, a focus on First Amendment theory falls short of integrating all aspects of the culture of violence in a comprehensive analysis.

How would an ecogenerist theory using the tools of an environmentalist approach analyze the role of law in regulating the culture of violence and its effects on children? As an initial matter, it would place children at the center of the analysis rather than at the periphery. First Amendment theory is predicated on free speech rights of an adult audience, and treats children as the marginalized exception to the rule. When considering violent images, we begin with the assumption that adults’ access to such images is a constitutionally protected right. Defenders of free expression often warn that regulation to protect children will lead to a culture composed only of images that are fit for children (Ashcroft v. American Civil Liberties Union, 2004). Environmentalists take a different approach to environmental toxins. Toxins that pose a threat to living organisms are judged by their harmful effects on the most vulnerable of growing organisms, with special attention to regeneration of organic systems (Schon, 2004). The argument that some mature organisms can tolerate extreme doses and constant exposure to toxic images seems irrelevant when our focus is not on the adult’s individual freedom to consume harmful substances, but rather on the survival of the young of our species. Why should we assume that a world made safe for children would be unfit for adults? The children of the world were drawing on a powerful environmentalist metaphor when they argued at the UN 2002 Special Summit on Children that “A World Fit for Children Is a World Fit for Everyone” (Woodhouse, 2003).

Environmentalists also favor regulating toxic emissions at their source, whenever feasible (Ratcliffe, 2004). Public education and industry self-regulation is encouraged but, if it fails in effectiveness, government regulation will be imposed. They understand that citizens are unable to avoid and control pervasive environmental toxins. They also understand that assigning to parents the right and responsibility to decide whether to expose their children to toxins places the children at serious risk. I have yet to hear a politician say, “Let them buy their children bottled water” when presented with a citizen complaint about the quality of the water flowing in the municipal drinking water systems. Neither do politicians respond with, “Let them keep their children indoors” when confronted by parents complaining about toxic levels of air pollution. Lead paint provides another example. One answer to the problem of children’s exposure to lead paint is parent education. We warn parents not to rent or buy contaminated homes. But we do not stop there; we take additional steps such as banning manufacture of lead paint, requiring lead paint abatement by landlords, and providing chelation therapy for children exposed to lead (Souchuns, 1998).

The precautionary principle and the adaptive approach, when put together, promote a philosophy of taking cautious corrective action without demanding conclusive proof of its effectiveness in averting possible harms. As noted by Craig Anderson in this volume, regulators have discounted evidence that clearly establishes but falls short of conclusively proving a causal connection between harm to children and exposure to media violence. Similarly, the opposition to regulation of advertising junk foods to children is predicated on a lack of conclusive evidence of causation (Woodhouse, 2004). In choosing corrective actions, the adaptive approach suggests avoiding actions that are irreversible and set in stone. Operating assumptions must be open to reexamination. For example, the Supreme Court in Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (2002) concluded that virtual child pornography (using digitized images rather than photographs of real children) is not covered by bans on child pornography. The Court reasoned that the harm at issue in child pornography is the harm inflicted on real children when they are made to participate in creation of pornographic images. Research on the effects on pedophiles of viewing and manipulating digitized images of children as objects of sexual gratification and sexual violence might suggest that the threat of child pornography to children as a group has been underestimated (Ladle, 2004). Concepts like bioregionalism and restoration ecology find their social work counterparts in cultural competency training and systems therapy (Fondacaro & Fesig, this volume). Viewing children in their ecological context also makes clear the futility of trying to deal with children in isolation from the systems that affect and surround them.

An environmentalist perspective would shift the analysis to measuring environmental harms to children and addressing them at their source rather than privatizing responsibility for protecting children’s environment. An environmentalist analysis rejects the notion that the level of toxin we permit or prohibit in water supplies depends on subjective community values. We need not accept that the freedom of some to consume harmful quantities of a toxic substance trumps the protection of the many who are collaterally affected by a failure to address the toxins at their source.

Under this theory, I would ask lawmakers to challenge the assumption that expression is not harmful unless it leads to a direct physical assault or immediate injury—consider the examples of crying “fire!” in a crowded theater or calling for a rope at a lynching. However, I would place the burden on those seeking regulation to show that specific images delivered in a particular form and dosage are actually harmful to children and not just offensive to the regulator’s eye. Drawing upon an environmental analogy, a tangled forest may seem offensive and unkempt but imposing order on the landscape may actually do more damage than good. We also need to address the most serious threats to the environment first. According to current research, while exposure to sexually explicit materials may have some adverse effects on children, violent materials including sexually explicit violence are far more damaging (Saunders, 1996).

In the context of legislation like COPA (1998), we might try approaching regulation of images in a more complex way. There are many other mechanisms besides criminal penalties that can be used to create disincentives for marketing images of obscene and senseless violence to children. We must utilize science rather than public opinion to determine which materials are, indeed, “harmful to children.” If filters are shown to be an effective method of protection, we should promote their development and implementation through noncoercive financial incentives. But we cannot stop there, leaving the child’s safety to parents who may lack the power or knowledge to ensure it. We must consider public alternatives, such as product safety legislation analogous to laws that require automakers to install safety devices on all their products so that a child-safe product is the norm rather than the exception. If the devices we have invented, like the V-Chip, fail in their protective function, we must find better alternatives for protecting children from the collateral effects of adult conduct. When it comes to extremely dangerous emissions that are concentrated in toxic levels emanating from identifiable sources, we must be able to regulate them at their source. If the most effective way to prevent harms to children is to prevent them from entering a dangerous environment, while preserving access for mature adults, then the First Amendment should not foreclose requiring sites hosting harmful materials (clearly and scientifically defined) to “card” or otherwise verify the ages of those who seek entrance.

Punishment versus Prevention: Restoring Toxic Neighborhoods

A second example of an ecological approach is considering the treatment of juveniles in the criminal justice system. The benefits of this approach can best be seen by considering the treatment of a first-time juvenile offender in our current system. Consider the case of a child we shall call X, who was the subject of one multidisciplinary case review in which this author participated. X was convicted of murder at age 14. Raised by a single mother in a violent inner-city neighborhood, he was bullied on the streets and in school from a young age. A skinny kid and an easy mark, he began to carry a gun. Confronted by a 21-year-old bully named Y, he fired a shot into Y’s foot and, when Y kept coming, X shot him in the heart. Had X reasonably believed his life was in danger, this might have been excused as self-defense. But it was clear that X simply wanted the bullying to stop.

At the time of the crime, X was functionally illiterate. Of average intelligence, he had passed through each grade level without learning how to read. In ninth grade, he knew how to write only four words. A family history revealed that he had been abused by his father who abandoned the family years before. He was being raised by a timid mother, herself a victim of domestic violence who was isolated from community resources because she spoke very little English.

The justice system addresses the problem of X’s violence against Y as a question of individual responsibility for intentionally harmful acts that resulted in Y’s death. With X as the accused and Y as the victim, the state’s role would ordinarily be limited to determining guilt and meting out punishment. However, in recognition that children are less culpable and more amenable to rehabilitation, we created the juvenile justice system (Redding, this volume). Juvenile law would have treated X as a resource needing restoration and placed him in a juvenile facility designed to rehabilitate, rather than simply to punish. His criminal record would be expunged and he would be freed at age 21 to succeed or fail in the adult world. But X’s case was complicated by the more recent trend to give juveniles “adult time for adult crime” (Redding, this volume). X received a blended sentence of 30 years. He would be held in a juvenile facility until age 21, at which point he would be released if he could show that he had been rehabilitated. If not, he would serve the rest of his sentence in an adult prison.

Seven years later, when he turned 21, X’s case was up for review. In the intervening years, X had completed his secondary education through a prison-based general equivalency degree (GED) program. He had also earned a number of college-level credits. He was a leader in his peer group, and his most serious infraction of rules had been pushing another kid on the basketball court. His teachers unanimously recommended he be released, with access to follow-up services. Nevertheless, the authorities decided he had not been rehabilitated and must serve his adult time. The risk that he might reoffend was unacceptable in a political climate that severely punishes officials who err on the side of clemency.

Our first instinct might be to complain that the system had failed X by mislabeling him. Once labeled a criminal, X was defined by a single act of violence. A common nostrum among children’s lawyers holds that law tends to label children as “bad, sad, mad, or can’t add.” The bad child is a delinquent, the mad child is mentally ill, the sad child is abused or neglected, and the child who cannot add is learning disabled. Why, we might ask, had X not been identified earlier as a victim of abuse, which might have opened the door of the dependency system where the focus would have been on providing his family with services and support? Why had he not been diagnosed earlier as a child with a severe learning disability, and provided with a key to the special education system, where an Individualized Educational Plan may have opened the door to school success? Given the pattern of bullying by peers, why had he and his family not been identified as a child or family “in need of services,” which might have opened the door of the systems tasked with providing community-based services to assist children and families at risk for delinquency? Given our current paradigm of individual responsibility and family autonomy, the system failure lies in our having failed to correctly label the “at-risk” child so that he can be provided with services. I believe the current paradigm leaves us searching for the right answers to the wrong questions.

If we place X and his situation in ecological context, our problem solving is entirely different. We can clearly see the relationship between the violence he inflicted and the violence he witnessed and experienced. The violence was not confined to his family but pervaded the environments of school, street, and peer group. Even a stable and authoritative two-parent family preaching nonviolence has difficulty overcoming the dissonant messages within mesosystems where the family overlaps with the other microsystems in which the child lives his life. As this volume shows, violence in children’s lives is rarely an isolated episode; it is endemic, as described by Dowd in her introduction to this volume. In searching for the roots of environmental violence, social scientists have pointed to the relationship of violence and poverty or low socioeconomic status, exacerbated by effects of race, class, and gender (Polakow, 2000; Sampson, 1997).

One might argue that such vast societal problems are simply beyond the purview of the law. Law, one might argue, can only deal with individual failures, not with microsystems, mesosytems, or macrosystems. Individuals must be responsible for protecting themselves from environmental harms and must answer for their autonomous acts without using the culture of violence as an excuse. This is the same fallacious and short-sighted reasoning that might have prevented us from reforming our legal systems to address the ecological crisis we faced in the 20th century. In fact, law in the form of legislation can address environmental harms by focusing on prevention of environmental degradation and on restoration of healthy ecological systems.

Drawing on social science research, legal scholars have argued that relatively simple and straightforward policies and programs can produce significant measurable improvements in legal outcomes, whether measured in reductions in children’s pain and suffering or in reduced expenditures for special education, criminal justice, and child protection (Garrison, in press; Minow, 1994). Quality early-childhood programs, such as maternal and infant care, Head Start, and others, as well as early delinquency-prevention programs and programs that reduce child poverty, show promise for reducing family violence, enhancing school readiness, improving children’s mental and physical health, and insulating children from many environmental risks (Gomby et al., 1995; Mulvey, Arthur, & Reppucci, 1997; Solow, 1994; Yoshikawa, 1995). Designing a comprehensive, ecologically sensitive program for reducing violence in children’s environment is beyond the scope of this chapter and beyond my skills as a lawyer. It requires a scientifically sophisticated, evidence-based approach. It may require ignoring myths and ideologies that conflict with the evidence. Certainly, as a first step, we must get beyond our current impasse of blaming the endangered species for their own endangerment and expecting them to rebalance an ecosystem that is out of their control.

However, none of this can be accomplished without major changes in the macrosystems that impose the myth of individual autonomy that fosters a paradigm of human exemptionalism and obscures the fact that we are linked in a fragile ecosystem characterized by interconnectedness.


I have outlined the differences between an ecological approach and our current approach to children’s issues. The data and observations confirm that, at present, we are miserably failing our children, and by extension, our species. We continue to build zoological and botanical gardens, such as foster care, where at-risk children can be removed from their environment for observation. We spend vast amounts of money on penal and leper colonies, the institutions where endangered children are isolated and confined. And those with options are creating private parks and palaces, those private schools and gated communities where the affluent believe they can shelter their own from the dangers posed by a pervasive culture of violence.

I have suggested that we must replace our current ideologies with a new ideology of ecogenerism. Our first line of action is to create a new macrosystem, shifting the power and ideology of individualism toward an ecogenerist ethic that meets the actual needs of children. Guided by the precautionary principle and adaptive approach, if we cannot instantly create a macrosystem that is safe for children, then we should find a way to isolate harmful images and activities in adult zones, or, at the very least, to create a system of child-safe spaces and refuges.