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Originally published: 2014-02-27 10:25:42
Last modified: 2014-02-27 10:25:42

Your View: Book banning vs. careful selection

by Clinton B. Zimmerman, M.D., FAAP, B.S. in health systems engineering

Media has a profound influence on our society. It has inspired people to do great things, but it has also been a contributor to some horrible tragedies. 

The American Academy of Pediatrics representing 60,000 pediatricians has long recognized its effect, and on Oct. 28, 2013, issued a policy statement expressing its concern about the potential harmful effects of media messages and images. In the statement, they recommend that parents monitor what media their children are using by establishing a family home use plan for all media. The academy goes on to recommend a team approach working with the medical home, the family home and the school home to develop a plan for monitoring children's media diets. 

How we process information

One aspect of how people process information depends on their mental imagery. The words that we read conjure up different mental images depending on a person's bent. If I tend to have a visual bent, a particular story might conjure up distinct visual images with bright colors, picturesque scenes, etc.  Senses such as touch, feeling, hearing and smell can come to life while reading. Someone with an auditory bent might hear certain sounds of music, choruses and melodies. Others have more of an analytical bent, looking more at concepts and principles and numbers. These ways of looking at things can be complementary.  

Another consideration is that of past history. If one is brought up in a stable home, with little trauma and strong emotional support, that person's ability to handle things will be quite different than that person who comes from a chaotic, violence-ridden or abusive background. The first person may process a "heavy" book with little trouble, being able to come away with themes of forgiveness and love and determination. The latter may come away more anxious or depressed, or if bullied, may become more aggressive, choosing to model rather than be repulsed by deviant behavior.

In addition, one's mental and emotional state also affects how we process information based on whether we are happy and joyful and well-adjusted, or if depressed, anxious, have post-traumatic stress disorder or, frankly without conscience, to name a few. 

For the individual who has post-traumatic stress disorder from previous child sexual abuse, written words depicting a child's abuse and rape would likely evoke flashbacks of visual images of their past horrors. This, in turn, could contribute to intensified anxiety, depression, withdrawal, anger and aggression, being later prone to sexual promiscuity, poor self-esteem, alcoholism, drug dependency and eating disorders.

The influence of pornography

In the article "Pornography's Effects on Adults and Children," clinical psychologist Dr. Victor Cline, who received his doctoral degree from the University of California, Berkeley, provided an extensive review of the nefarious effects of pornography on our society.  

Pornography in common parlance and Merriam-Webster's dictionary is visual or written material intended to cause sexual arousal. Cline was a licensed psychotherapist specializing in family/marital counseling and sexual addictions. This subject is extremely deep and broad, but this is a force that is tearing relationships apart, destroying families and enslaving women and children, especially. While some may not consider the book, "The House of the Spirits," pornographic, if one's bent is toward visual imagery, then the images conjured up by descriptive, graphic language would be pornographic.

Medicine as a drug

Media, and specifically literature, is like a drug. When consumed, it has certain effects and certain side effects. We must consider these as we evaluate the appropriateness of a piece of literature, in the efforts to promote lifelong learning and a productive citizen. Much has been said about the positive effects of "The House of the Spirits." I have read it, and it certainly has some value in learning about a culture and the ability of an author to string words together and create visual pictures through extremely descriptive language.  

I am concerned, however, about some of the undesired effects. As a health systems engineer and a pediatrician, I have reviewed and analyzed these in-depth.

Statistics show that one in six males and one in four females have been abused sexually. In a class of 30, that could amount to as many as five to seven children. Based on my research, and discussion with people who work with abused children, this piece of literature would be unsuitable for these children.

I would have concerns, as well, with regard to other children who may have had tumultuous backgrounds. Consider someone who had obsessive tendencies and who had a tendency to bully, or someone who was showing some sociopathic tendencies. Based on my analysis and review, while there are some benefits, the weight of the evidence and facts and the many potential untoward side effects makes this book unsuitable for high school students. 

In conclusion, consider the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Sow a thought, reap an action/ Sow an action, reap a habit/ Sow a habit, reap a character/ Sow a character, reap a destiny."