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Roger Levesque
Department of Criminal Justice

Hal Kibbey
IU Media Relations

Last modified: Thursday, May 17, 2007

Adolescents, media and the law

Preparing adolescents for a rapidly changing world

May 17, 2007

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The rapidly changing media environment experienced by American adolescents is having both positive and negative effects on their development, according to Roger Levesque, a specialist on adolescents and the law at Indiana University Bloomington and author of the new book, Adolescents, Media and the Law: What Developmental Science Reveals and Free Speech Requires.

"We have long known, for example, that images of violence can contribute to antisocial behavior, but now we know that the greater effects of these images actually are on nonviolent and nonaggressive activities," said Levesque, editor of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence. "Violent media has its most negative effect on family discussions, socializing, materialism and passivity. Yet, we also now know that access to media is critical to healthy development, and that the media can be harnessed to reduce a wide variety of risky activities, increase civic participation, and foster social, emotional and intellectual development."

Roger Levesque

Roger Levesque

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So far, Levesque said, social and policy responses to the media that pervasively infiltrate adolescents' lives have been strikingly inadequate.

In his new book, published by Oxford University Press, Levesque integrates research on what the law considers "speech" in adolescent development with research on policies regulating adolescents' rights and their place in society.

Levesque's book concentrates on the four categories of media content that are generally considered problematic: violence, sexuality, smoking and body image. He said he chose these because they are the most frequently examined areas of media research dealing with adolescent development. "They allow for a representative analysis of what we know, don't know and should know about the place of the media in adolescents' marketplace of ideas," he said.

"The book seeks to guide the development of laws that will respond to adolescents' informational and expressive needs and provide adolescents, and everyone else, with increased opportunities to flourish in our democratic society," said Levesque, a professor in the Department of Criminal Justice. His research focuses on the legal regulation of adolescents, using developmental science to explore the nature of their rights.

He has found surprisingly few regulations of adolescents' media environments, he said. Instead there is a general rule that bestows considerable control of adolescents' rights to media on parents and those acting as parents.

The result has been an emphasis on adult experience in determining what media content is appropriate for adolescents, he said. This approach ignores much of what is now known about adolescent development.

Instead of using adult experience as the benchmark from which to determine whether the legal system should recognize and respect adolescents' rights, he examined the constitutional principles that govern the right of free speech. His goal was to develop legal rules that remain faithful to the Constitution's dictate that everyone deserves its protections.

He concluded that affirming adolescents' rights furthers the historically tested rationales for regulating their development and environments.

"Most notably, protecting their rights to information facilitates adolescents' search for truth and place in society," he said. "That protection also best allows adolescents to self-regulate and govern themselves, which, in turn, fosters their self-fulfillment and ability to act responsibly. All of these goals are central psychological tasks of adolescence and the foundation of good citizenship. They also are the foundational principles of First Amendment free speech law."

As our legal system increasingly protects various media and prohibits restrictions on the right of free speech, he believes we must rethink adolescents' rights to information, look beyond the current media images and outlets that are considered troublesome, and take more seriously our scientific understanding of adolescent development.

"Our important commitments to protecting free speech for adults and protecting adolescents from harmful media," he argued, "must not detract from reform efforts that would prepare both adolescents and their social environment for an increasingly changing and challenging world."

Roger Levesque can be reached at 812-856-1210 and For assistance, contact Hal Kibbey at 812-855-0074 and