Book Review

Saving Childhood ---
Protecting Our Children from the National Assault on Innocence

Michael Medved and Diane Medved, Ph.D.

(324 pp., ISBN: 0-06-017372-6, HarperCollins Publishers, New York, NY, 1998.)

Saving Childhood opens with anecdotes that epitomize the modern trend toward treating children like adults rather than nurturing them. The authors quote Marie Winn's prophetic book, Children without Childhood, which maintains that civilization has recently shifted its fundamental attitude toward nurturing the young. The new trend is based on the belief that children must be exposed early to adult experience in order to survive in an increasingly complex and uncontrollable world.

But has this "Age of Preparation," which has replaced the "Age of Protection," helped children adjust to adulthood? The statistics aren't encouraging. Since 1960, the rate at which teenagers take their own lives has more than tripled. By 1995, 14 percent of all deaths between the ages of fifteen and twenty-four were suicides. The U.S. Department of HHS reports more than 500,000 suicide attempts each year --- nearly 1400 every day.

"The fastest growing segment of the criminal population is made up of children," notes former Secretary of Education William Bennett. Since 1965, the juvenile arrest rate for violent crimes has tripled, totaling more than 100,000 annually. More than 10 percent of all high school students carry a knife, razor, firearm, or other weapon to school on a regular basis.

Between 1992 and 1995, the use of marijuana has nearly doubled among eighth and tenth graders. A national survey shows that 50 percent of twelfth graders and 40 percent of tenth graders have used illicit drugs, including LSD, inhalants, stimulants, barbiturates, cocaine, and crack.

Today, half of all girls and two thirds of all boys have intercourse before age eighteen with one in four acquiring a sexually transmitted disease every year. Thirty percent of all births are illegitimate.

If this modern "Age of Preparation" purports to equip our children to confront the challenges of adolescence and young adulthood, it can only be adjudged an appalling failure. In light of this, the authors wonder at the apparent determination of much of the educational, psychological, and cultural establishments, which press on with their new approach in the name of equipping them for the future. They compare this stubborn insistence to George Santayana's classic definition of fanaticism: "redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim."

Neil Postman of New York University emphasizes the role of television in The Disappearance of Childhood. Where adults once eased children into the "secrets" of maturity, television presents them with all the grim truths at an early age.

The authors' first step in marriage counseling is to get the television out of the bedroom. It is a barrier to closeness, stifling "talk," which is intimacy for most women and limiting "sex," which is intimacy for most men. Even the TV in the family room interferes with family closeness. They have eliminated the "Family Channel" in their home and replaced it with the "Medved Channel" to save their childrens' childhood, and preserve their sense of wonderment and identity.

They also point out that religious rituals provide children with a secure, solid understanding of their place, not just in the family, but also in the world. For children who attend services with parents in an unfamiliar place and hear familiar prayers or hymns, the place becomes less strange. Youngsters can feel more confident and rooted in the discovery that they are members of a larger ancient community of faith. This time-honored observance can enhance the security that is an essential element of innocence.

Author Diane Medved describes an experience with her seven-year-old daughter, Sarah, who looked up from a book she was reading and began to cry. She asked when she would start to bleed. Medved took the book and told her daughter that it was nothing she had to worry about right now. Sarah learned that there is a world of "things that you will learn about later."

This volume offers useful advice, not only for our own lives, but also for our patients' lives as well. As physicians we are involved in the raising of children, whether in caring for the child and counseling the mother, or in being a source of sage advice for fathers and grandparents who come into our offices for unrelated reasons. We can recommend this book to them as well as to our colleagues. I look forward to meeting and hearing the Medveds at our annual meeting next month.

Reviewed by Delbert H. Meyer, MD
Carmichael, CA

Dr Meyer is a pulmonologist practicing in Sacramento, is on the Clinical Faculty of University of California Davis School of Medicine, and is on the editorial boards of Sacramento Medicine, and Medical Sentinel. He can be reached by E-Mail: