In Brief

Who should play more of a role--parents or politicians--in protecting children from Internet pornography? How does exposure to explicit sexual materials effect children?

In an effort to answer those questions, the National Academies and the Institute of Medicine are bringing together diverse professionals--from psychology and media studies to the entertainment industry. The project, known as "Tools and Strategies for Protecting Children from Pornography and Their Applicability to Other Inappropriate Internet Content," held it's first strategy workshop in December to consider how local communities can approach the problem.

Unfortunately, there's not much research to guide them so far, "yet we do a lot of research on kids and sex," says APA member Joanne Cantor, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, who spoke at the group's meeting. She discussed ways extrapolate from media violence research to the area and delved into methodological issues for future investigations.

Thus far, weighing the impact of Internet pornography on youth's sexual behavior has proven challenging, says Jeff McIntyre, Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer for APA's Public Policy Office. McIntyre, who spoke at an earlier meeting of the NAS/IOM Task Force explains that "defining the measurements is really tough. Researchers already struggle with these issues and, to add the Internet to the mix, makes it very complex."

Yet despite the ambiguous and controversial nature of the topic, the project has initiated a promising departure into new research territory, members say. The dialogue they've begun is "a national conversation" about children and emerging technologies, says McIntyre.

In addition to Cantor, the members who attended the workshop were Ed Donnerstein, PhD, Patricia Greenfield, PhD, Don Roberts, PhD and NAS/IOM Task Force member Sandra Calvert.

--E. O'CONNOR