A penetrating look at American children and their families, reported in simple but not simplistic fashion. A flurry of heads-of-state at the UN saluting the Decade of the Child and a rash of books about the wretched state of children and the institutions that serve them suggest that children will be to the 90's as health and fitness were to the 80's--a theme around which the ""high-energy"" people can rally. As cynical as that may sound, it reflects the fact that many of the books, and most of the speeches, are noisy alarms about the evils of TV, computers, and sexual precocity. Louv, a columnist for The San Diego Union, is also concerned about TV, computers, and sex, but he spent three years traveling around the country interviewing people in the trenches of family life--thousands of children and parents--to find out their views. What Louv found, and his reports are eloquently supported by statements from children and adults, is that the community that once sustained the family has virtually disintegrated. Children are isolated from adults; parents are isolated from other parents and from schools; violence on TV and in movies breeds not so much violence as apprehension about the dangers in life. Everyone is overprogrammed, and time to be together or even alone and unstructured is not on the agenda. The litany is a familiar one, but the moving and thoughtful testimony of confused and frightened or enlightened and determined people gives it power. The ""family liberation movement"" suggested by Louv as a rallying cry smacks of a failed 60's rubric; the assignment of ""weaving a new web"" seems overwhelming. But webs are woven strand by strand, as Louv points out. In all, then, an illuminating and motivating how-to for families of the 90's.