Monday, September 26, 2011

The Parental Dilemma: Put Yourself In Their Place

Kids may come into contact with "strange" people in books.
Often, books get banned because a parent picks up the book their kid is reading and the content shocks them. I can understand the shock. I think about certain books I’ve read and know that children of certain ages should not be reading them yet. Even though I understand doesn’t mean I condone book banning.

It’s funny, I always had the personal opinion about how I’d handle book reading with my own children. I know a lot about various books, whether from personal reading or synopsis and review reading. All this information is stored in the back of my mind and I have things sorted by category (genre/age group). Take Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White for example. I do know the book pretty well but what if I didn’t? I’d know it’s about animals and it’s for children. On the other end of the spectrum--Ellen Hopkins’ Crank. If I didn’t know this book, I’d categorize it as a coming of age novel featuring prominent drug usage and it’s for teens.

Then, at our garage sale, some friends stopped by and the one daughter (she’s about 14) bought three books. Her mom proceeded to say to me, “She loves to read, but I always worry about whether the books are appropriate for her age. It’s not like I can read all of them.” What she said kind of hit me later:

Most parents don’t know books like I do.

It has to be hard for parents nowadays to know what kind of books are age appropriate. Sure, they could read the synopsis on the back, but do they always tell you what the book is about? Sometimes they don’t. Sometimes it’s vague. Sometimes it barely gives any relevant information at all. The cover doesn’t always portray what the content includes. You don’t know whether the book will contain swearing, drug use, or sex. You may get the impression that it’s a possibility, but it’s not always concrete. It’s not like movie ratings that specify what you’ll see if you watch it.

Which brings me to my next point: Ratings. It’s too bad there isn’t a system for rating books as to age appropriateness or content warning. I mean, even CD’s at least say Parental Advisory if it’s explicit. It would probably be pretty hard to put books into categories like that. I could list several books that would be rated R based on swear words alone. Add in all the books with the drug content and sex and you’ve got a huge stack of rated R books, and a slightly smaller stack of PG-13... and a tiny stack of PG, and a handful of G. Everything would be mass chaos.

I assured her mom I could recommend some age appropriate books for her daughter. That seemed to put her at ease. I have to say I’m glad I know as much as I do about books. If I didn’t, I would be at a loss, like a lot of parents seem to be these days.

Ever since my childhood friend had her baby, I’ve thought about how it would be to have children. What if my twelve year old son was reading Crank? I might worry about him experimenting with drugs. What if my thirteen year old daughter was reading Thirteen Reasons Why? I might worry about her relating to Hannah so much that she may justify suicide as an easy way to escape pain.

Simply put, being a parent would be scary. I can understand when parents are concerned about books. I wish they would take a step back and think about what banning a book means. Think about a basic plot in a typical dystopian for a moment: A society has strict regulations on simple life choices they deem shouldn’t be choices because of bad consequences that may happen. Book banning is like a dystopian society dictating how we should live. While it may prevent some bad consequences, they forget about what kind of influence movies, TV, music, and peers have on their children too.

This is why I love Banned Books Week. It’s a way to express personal thoughts and to understand all points of view. We may not all agree about a book being proper for an age group, but we do agree that banning is extreme. There needs to be a balance and a respect for others rather than a focus on our own agenda. It is good to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes though. A little understanding can go a long way to help the cause.

13 comments:

  1. Awesome post. My concern is that when a book is banned or challenged, it prevents it from being accessible to all children no matter the age. I ratings would be helpful to parents and I think age appropriateness is important. I think the solution must be narrowly tailored to the problem/difficulties.

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  2. Whoa, I totally posted something similar on my blog today. I guess Banned Book Week is making us think about these issues more.

    My post: Should YA come with warning labels?

    In theory, ratings on books should be OK, be in practice that kind of thing tends to be fraught with problems and susceptible to other people's prejudices. Look at how unfair the movie rating system can be: The Dark Knight has repeated violence and is well, dark, but was rated PG-13, while Blue Valentine was threatened with NC-17 because of one sex scene. Some places won't show films that are NC-17 and you might get some booksellers refusing to stock books that have too high an age-rating. Also, who decides what's appropriate for children? Some parents would want any book with homosexuality featured, no matter how tame, automatically given a high age certificate and teens struggling with their sexuality might be denied access to books that would help them.

    Not to mention, that trying to curtail a child's reading could effect them negatively. Thirteen Reasons Why might depict suicide, but so does Romeo and Juliet. Would you stop your child reading Shakespeare? That could hurt their literary education.

    But I do understand the issue for parents. It's much easier to watch a movie, or a TV show or listen to an album before deciding whether it's right for your child. But reading every book before your child requires time that most parents just don't have. And people don't have to stick to age guidelines; they could just use them for suggestions.

    Sorry for coming on your blog and rambling, Jess! I already rambled on my own blog about this! But it's such a hot-topic issue, we could really discuss it forever and a day!

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  3. I read a ton of heavy stuff as a kid (starting when my Great Gram handed me *Flowers in the Attic* when I was eleven...gee, thanks Gram! Incest and murder are always a nice way to kick off adolescence!). I think what made the difference between getting too influenced and just feeling like I took a walk in someone else's shoes for a while was the support I had. Teachers, reading friends, my parents, all of them were keeping a good eye on me. I read some stuff beyond my time, but I never felt like any of it was too much because I had the safety of my reality.

    The YA book I wrote has some sexy scenes in it, and I debated them for a long time. The reason I put them in is because I meet so many young people who are really casual about sex and let stuff happen without really caring, taking precautions, being emotionally connected...things I think are so important. I put what I would consider a very appropriate scene of physical experimentation, but the real point was the caring the two characters had for each other. I think people will realize a distinction between what's done to educate and enlighten, and what's done to shock and sell.

    Haha! Your are bringing out the ramble today, Jessica! And I do agree that it's helpful to offer parents guidelines about what's in a book so they can help steer and direct.

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  4. Alexis: Exactly! Preventing all from one book is just wrong.

    TG: That's very true for movie ratings. I wonder who it is that makes these choices. They don't always seem to get it right. And I completely forgot to think of a classic like Romeo And Juliet! You're so right. No worries on the rambling... I am CONSTANTLY having to cut down on my article posts so that I don't go on too long.

    elizabethreinhardt: That's a good way to look at it--when a child has people looking out for them I don't think there needs to be too much worry. As long as a child is mature enough to understand fiction and reality, I think they can handle a lot more when it comes to books.

    Thank you all for your comments! I love discussions like this. :)

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  5. Great posting! Very thought provoking! I agree that maybe having a rating on books, or at least an indication of age appropriateness (14+, 18+) might be a good idea as many parents don't have the time to screen every book that their child reads. But then again some children are more mature then others and can handle books with more mature content... It's a very conflicting topic!

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  6. My mom always taught us to talk to her about what we were reading so even if she couldn't read it she sort of knew what we were reading. I also was and am such a determined, independent, little snot that I rarely let books effect me. So if it was a bad book with bad things I just called it stupid and moved on, and if it was a god book I'd like it but I often didn't even get obsessed with it and read it over and over. Anyways, my rambling isn't making sense. I'm just saying my mom is not a superhero with powers beyond anyone else and she somehow taught us to talk to her so it's obviously possible.

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  7. My parents don't read English very well, so when I was growing up they had no chance of knowing what I was reading. If I hid the cover, they'd just think that I was reading a book for school. I think it's all well and good to try and put ratings and warnings on books but part of me worries where we will stop once we start censoring. Will the books with diff warnings be housed in separate areas in a bookstore? Will you need to flash ID in order to buy certain books? Will we risk some books becoming more than what they really are simply because they've been classified a certain way? At the end of the day, even if a parent were to read all the books their kids read and even if there are ratings, kids usually find ways to do things they want regardless of how many hurdles you put in their way. I think we should concentrate more of educating our young so they can make informed choices on their own instead of trying to dictate what's appropriate for them. Like Jenny, I was a cynical little tike and if there was stuff in a book that was too grown up for me, I just classed it as stupid and moved on. Kids who are influenced by things they read on TV and in books are probably the vulnerable type anyway and that's scarier than whether we rate a book for them. Parent's need to be communicating with their children more. End of story.

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  8. Natalie: It is conflicting! Ratings are a good idea in some respect, but each child is different and some dude coming up with the rating can't know that.

    Jenny: Having open communication with parents is key, you hit the nail right on the head! More parents need to know what's going on with their children. Too many just let kids do what they want, then when something bad happens decide to blame something.

    Lan: That's the downside of the possibility of ratings, needing to show ID. You're right, kids will still read certain books regardless of what their parents say (I have a post on this epidemic for Wednesday!). And the ones that are influenced will be influenced regardless of banning.

    This is great! I love the differences in opinion and ideas. :)

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  9. You make some great points - we have these systems in place for film and music, but there's not much for parents to go on with books except genre labels.

    But really, what's so hard about hopping online to do a little bit of research to find out about what your child is wanting to read? Or if it's something their friends are reading, why not ask the friends' parents if they know anything about the books?

    I totally get that a parent may not have time to read EVERY book their child reads or wants to read - especially if they want to read their own books, too! But there are other ways now to find out what's in these books.

    I mean, look at what a great community of book bloggers we have here. I cross-post my reviews in other places online, as well, and I'm sure I may not be the only one.

    It doesn't take a lot of time to pull up Amazon or Google Books and read a few reviews or send a blogger who seems to know a lot about the genre or the book if they think it would be age appropriate, etc.

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  10. *"...send a blogger an email"

    haha. XD

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  11. Colleen: Exactly! There are so many people and resources online for parents to go to for help in finding out more about a book for your kids. Thanks for your comment! :)

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  12. I was writing a comment and it got to be so long I decided I had just better write my own post about it *L0L* Thanks for sparking the idea :0)

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  13. That's really awesome! I look forward to reading it. :D

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