Jo Talks Books: On Whether Parents Should Censor Children’s Reading?

Hi everyone! I was originally going to do a different topic for today, but I was inspired by a post on Fable’s Library about Safe YA, books that it’s safe for I guess younger teenagers to read? Now her post was just a list of suggestions of books that young teens could read, it had nothing to do with censorship, but it got me thinking (because her post was inspired by parents in Barnes and Noble saying they had to read a book first to check that it was safe for their kid to read) about whether parents really should censor what their children read or not.

I know, I know, a lot of people would probably say, of course parents should check that what their child is reading is safe, you don’t want your child reading something that is not age appropriate, that has a lot of swearing or violence or sex. It’s natural for a parent to want to protect their child against something that they think might hurt them and naturally there are some books that aren’t appropriate for certain ages, for instance, you wouldn’t give something like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to an eight year old, that’s just being a responsible parent.

However, I think there’s a fine line between being a responsible parent and censoring what your child is reading. I know that when I was a kid, my parents allowed me to read what I wanted. I don’t ever remember them saying, “you can’t read this, it’s not appropriate” or “I need to read that, to make sure it’s appropriate for you”, they trusted that I was able to make my own decisions about what I wanted to read. Kids are pretty good at self censoring, if something makes them uncomfortable, they will put it down and they tend to be interested in stuff that’s age appropriate anyway, when I was a little kid, I’d read stuff about fairies and unicorns and that kind of thing, I wasn’t looking to read books about sex or violence or anything like that and when I grew up and my interests changed, I looked for books that reflected my new interests and I’d imagine for most readers this is the same. Kids will decide for themselves when they are ready to read something, and by all means, discuss it with them if you really think a book they’re reading is inappropriate, explain why and tell them they can try it again when they’re older, but don’t just outright say you can’t read that. They won’t take it well and if you discourage a kid from reading something that they’re interested in, then they might lose interest in reading.

Censorship is a very slippery slope. You start by censoring things that aren’t age appropriate to your child which you don’t think they’re ready for but then some parents might take it too far and censor stuff that they don’t believe their child should read because it’s against their personal beliefs, for instance books that have LGBT or anti-religious messages or have teenagers having sex before marriage etc. That is wrong. Completely wrong. Children and teenagers need to have access to books that widen their world view and I think it’s wrong for parents to restrict their child’s reading based on their own personal beliefs because it forces the child to accept their view on the world, rather than allowing them to develop their own.

I also think that most of the things that parents want to censor from kids  are things that they come across at a young age anyway. I don’t know about everyone else, but we had sex education at my primary school, I was nine, I think, when I first learned what sex was and I’m also pretty sure that I knew swear words at a young age, so I really don’t think reading books with the occasional swear word did me much harm. Violence is everywhere in the world, it’s on the news, it’s in video games, it’s a reality of life. I don’t think it really does kids any good to shield them from these things.

Personally, I started reading adult books when I was about 12/13 (Jodi Picoult’s books were my first foray into adult fiction), there were adult books that interested me and I had no difficulty comprehending them. That was my personal decision and I reckon that kids should be able to decide when they themselves feel that they are ready for certain books. You can’t protect kids from the world, they will find out about the harsh realities of the world at some point and I think reading is a great (and safe) way of exploring difficult subjects, plus it can open up a dialogue between parents and their children about these subjects which I think is only a good thing. The only way for kids to decide what they do and don’t like in books is to expose them to it, for instance I would never have decided that I wasn’t keen on explicit sex scenes in books if my parents had never allowed me to read a book with an explicit sex scene in. The things that parents want to protect their kids from in books, they are going to come across in real life anyway, you can’t protect them from everything.

As well as opening up a dialogue between parent and child if there are issues in a book that a kid doesn’t fully understand, I think allowing kids to choose their own books shows them that you trust them to make their own decisions. It’s good to talk to your kids about what they are reading, they appreciate it (as a voracious reader as a child, and still now, I loved (and still do love) talking about the books I read) but banning them from certain books isn’t going to do them any good, they will just read it anyway. I know I probably read books when I was a kid that might have gone over my head a little at the time, but the beauty of reading is that books are always there, you can always read a book again later on and it probably won’t have done you any harm to have read that book when you were younger, you just might appreciate it more the second time around.

I am not a parent, but I do know that I was very glad that my parents never kept me from reading anything that I wanted to read and if I ever had kids, I wouldn’t want to keep them from anything that they wanted to read either (within reason), I would want them to be able to explore all that books have to offer, in the same way that I was.

So over to you. If you are a parent, do you stop your child from reading certain books? Why? If you are not a parent, did your parents ever prevent you from reading certain books? Do you think there is a fine line between censorship and responsible parenting? Let me know in the comments!

I want to try and get one more discussion post in before the month is over (ambitious I know, but I want to try!), but if I don’t then the next one will probably still be next week anyway since July starts next week (can you believe it’s July already!). In the meantime though, my next post will be my Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, so stay tuned for that!

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12 thoughts on “Jo Talks Books: On Whether Parents Should Censor Children’s Reading?

  1. adventureswithabooknerd June 27, 2016 / 3:10 am

    I do think think that there is a line between censorship and responsible parenting. For example, I wouldn’t give a 10 year old 50 Shades of Grey, but why not let them read YA? When parents ban books, the children don’t get that experience. I learned a lot through books, and I am really grateful that my parents didn’t censor books from me. I also wouldn’t want anyone thinking that books are bad, or that their inappropriate. Wonderful post!

    • iloveheartlandx June 27, 2016 / 11:01 am

      Yes, I do too. No of course you wouldn’t but YA is perfectly fine. I agree completely. Same here, I was able to experience a wide range of books and learn a lot from them because my parents never tried to hide anything from me. No that would definitely not be a good ideal to pass on.

  2. meganm922 June 27, 2016 / 5:13 am

    I am not a parent, but I don’t think it’s a good idea to censor what kids read. If I can’t read something, it just makes me want to read it even more and I’ve always been like that.

    One of my friends had a stepdaughter who read 50 shades at like 15 or 16 and she took the opportunity upon finding out about that to talk about relationships and what is healthy and they really had a major moment, so I feel like anything can be a learning experience.

    If something contains dangerous ideas, I’ve always thought it best to let people expose themselves to it and make their own decisions.

    I mean, I wouldn’t hand a kid a racy romance or anything, but the bigger deal a parent makes of it, the more a child who likes to read will want to read it.

    • iloveheartlandx June 27, 2016 / 11:07 am

      Me either. Exactly! If my parents had ever told me I couldn’t read something, I would have just read it anyway! That’s really great! I’ve always thought that kids know what they’re ready for and obviously that experience was really good for her stepdaughter because she was able to learn something really important after having read that book. I completely agree! No me either (depending on the age of the kid, I reckon if you have a teenager they can read something with sex in it and it’s not a big deal) but I think they should be allowed to make their own decisions on what they read. Better they make their own decision and know that you trust them to do that, than tell them they can’t read something and they read it anyway behind their back because it will just show them that you don’t trust them!

  3. Stephanie June 27, 2016 / 6:07 am

    Great post! My parents rarely censored what I read growing up (probably because I read too much for them to keep up), but when they did tell me I couldn’t read something, it made me want to read it more.

    This post actually reminded me A LOT of a piece by Neil Gaiman that I just read in this book, The View from the Cheap Seats, called “What the [Very Bad Swear Word] is a Children’s Book, Anyway?” If you’re interested, you might want to check it out, because he shares a lot of your ideas.

    • iloveheartlandx June 27, 2016 / 11:09 am

      Thanks! My parents never told me I couldn’t read anything (though I doubt they could keep up with everything I read either!) but if they had, it would have made me want to read it more because that’s the kind of person I am. Oh really? I’ll have to check that out then, it sounds very intriguing.

  4. Briana June 27, 2016 / 7:11 am

    I commented on the Safe YA post, so my opinion is basically the same. I think it makes sense for parents to check what their kids read. Hopefully, a good parent will know what their child is emotionally ready for and have a good sense of their reading level. When kids read far above the expect reading level for their age, I do think you have to be careful what you give them to read, in some cases. Particularly since YA is marketed to 12 years old through 18 year olds. There are things published as YA (such as A Court of Thorns and Roses, which Maas has actually argued should be NA), that I would not give a young teenager or a middle schooler.

    Recently I answered a discussion prompt about whether teenagers should be allowed to read Fifty Shades of Gray. The general consensus was no, but the more interesting conversation in the comments was about the times other bloggers and readers had read something they were not emotionally prepared for as a child or teen and felt very traumatized by it. And they were all still upset by the experience. It was very interesting to me that no one said something to the effect of, “Well, I was upset at the time, but in hindsight I can see that being exposed to this idea/content at a young age was good for me.” All of them wished they hadn’t read the book/seen the movie in question. So in that regards I think parents/educators/guardians have a pretty serious duty to help their young readers out with books they’ll enjoy.

    As to actual censoring of books (say, people who don’t want their kids to read about witches or people who don’t want their kids to read about sex before marriage), I have to say that parents have the right to raise their children with their chosen values. I may not necessarily agree with those values, but I really don’t have a right to say “No, you have to let your child read Harry Potter.” You have the right to impart your own values to you own children, without other people arguing their values are better than yours. Obviously that doesn’t extend to public places. You can’t ban Harry Potter in libraries just because you don’t want YOUR kid reading it, but you’re perfectly within your rights to ask your kid not to read it. If you’re a good parent you’ll explain why, and the kid can do what they want with the explanation.

    • iloveheartlandx June 27, 2016 / 11:27 am

      I agree that parents should keep track of what their child is reading, I’m not arguing against that but I also think they should allow their kid to choose what they want to read. Kids know what they’re interested in and usually what they’re interested in lines up pretty well with their age group anyway and if they are interested in a slightly older book, it could be a great learning experience for them and if they are interested in books above their level, it’s better to guide them to books that they will enjoy than say “you can’t read this” or explain to them why you think it’s not a good idea for them to read what they want rather than just saying they can’t read it, because chances are, they’ll read it anyway. YA is a very broad spectrum of reading and it depends what your child is interested in and what their maturity level is and I reckon by 12/13 they are pretty good judges of that themselves. I can’t really answer to that as I’ve never really felt that I read anything that I wasn’t emotionally prepared for as a child or a teen. I agree that parents should guide their children towards books they’ll enjoy but the only way to find out if you’re going to enjoy a book is if you just dive straight in and read it and you can’t do that if your parents won’t let you read it. I have to disagree with you on parents actually censoring their children’s books, okay yes parents have the right to raise their children with their chosen values, but they also have the responsibility to make sure that their child is well educated and respects other people’s values and they can’t do that if they’re never allowed to read books that have values different from their parents. No obviously it doesn’t (though I’m quite frankly amazed at the number of people that still try). Well yes, you are with in your rights to tell your kid that they can’t read a certain book and explain why, but I don’t think it does any good hiding kids from particular books and they will probably just go and read it anyway, because hiding anything from a kid just makes them want it more.

  5. confused feminist reader mom July 11, 2016 / 8:13 pm

    Okay, I need help with this one. I am firmly anti censorship in nearly every instance. My parents never restricted my reading, and I read everything, from the classics to absolute trash. I’m proud to say my daughter is an avid reader as well; maybe not so much on the classics, but a good mix of mainstream novels and non-fiction, mostly YA but some adult stuff as well. However: for her 14th birthday she got a Kindle. We set it up on my Amazon account, because I was too lazy to set up all the “family” profiles. We signed up for the “unlimited” monthly subscription program that gives access to a lot of books for one monthly fee, on a trial basis, because she reads a lot. I looked today, just casually, at what she’d been reading, and to see if there was anything on “Unlimited” I was interested in.

    Well. It seems my daughter has been reading a lot of extremely graphic romance/sex books. Not just sex, but BDSM, threesomes, all kinds of pretty hardcore stuff. I don’t live under a rock, and I don’t mind her knowing that kind of thing exists. I know that in a few short years, she will be an adult and her reading list and her sex life will be none of my business. We talk pretty openly about sex and relationships. But she has never had a boyfriend or any “real life” sexual experience that I am aware of (and I think I would have a clue).

    But I also have a philosophical problem with porn– the picture kind for sure, and maybe even the stories that are designed to do nothing but arouse people. I think a little bit can be fun for adults, and that people are naturally interested, but I also think at least when it comes to the visual kind, people can become addicted and develop unrealistic attitudes about sex because of it. There may be no pictures in these books, but isn’t it the same thing? Is reading this stuff setting her up for relationship weirdness or unrealistic expectations in the future?

    So, do I just share my concerns and hope she sees the light? Do I forbid that kind of book (which is so not something I would do well at policing). If I set up content restrictions on Amazon, won’t that also limit her access to “better” books that might have some “adult” content, that I wouldn’t necessarily object to?

    • iloveheartlandx July 11, 2016 / 11:13 pm

      First off, thank you for your comment and I hope I can give you some helpful advice about your concerns (though obviously, I am not a parent, so this I guess is coming from what I think I would do in your situation and not from experience). I can see why you are concerned about your daughter reading extremely graphic/romance sex books, but I don’t think forbidding her from reading them would be the best way of handling the situation as she would just find another way way to read them. And yes, putting in content restrictions could limit her access to books that have some adult content that you wouldn’t object to. I think the best thing to do would be to talk to her, share your concerns and explain why you don’t think that these books are the best for her to read. If she still wants to read them, then I think talking to her about what she is reading and explaining that the way sex is portrayed in these books are not necessarily how it happens in real life is probably the best way of handling it.

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