Hi everyone! Today’s topic is kind of related to a discussion post that I did about a week and half ago, about whether parents should censor their children’s reading (though completely unintentionally, since I’ve had this post planned since January and that post was inspired by reading another discussion post on a different blog), as I’m talking about whether books should have age ratings in the same way that movies do. Now obviously, books are marketed towards different ages, you have children’s, middle grade, young adult, new adult (which is usually either in YA or Adult, I’ve never actually seen a New Adult section in a bookstore) and adult. Movies have ratings based on content and some would argue, why shouldn’t books, since some of the content in books (sex, violence, swearing etc) is the same as in movies. However, books and movies are completely different mediums and it’s my personal opinion that a rating system for books would be completely wrong and I’ll explain why in this post.
Books are organised in age categories at bookstores, but this is more for guidance than a direct instruction as to who can read them and I think that’s a good thing, because if strict rating systems were enforced, it would stop readers from exploring books that were seen as too old for them and I don’t think that’s a good thing at all, I think readers should be able to decide for themselves what they feel they are ready to read. Which brings me to one of my other problems about a rating system for books, who would decide what rating the book would get? The author? The publisher? The bookshop? An independent body? Someone would have to have the authority to say this book should be rated that and that book should be rated that and I’m sure there would be many people who would disagree with the rating and books are very subjective, what might be suitable content for a certain age for one person might not be suitable content for a certain age for another person, so there’s a danger of books being censored due to someone’s personal taste and that’s not right (for instance, Harry Potter could be censored for witchcraft content if the person doing the censoring was very religious). There’s a fine line between censorship and guidance and I feel like implementing a rating system for books is straddling the line dangerously close to censorship.
Movies are primarily just for entertainment purposes, that’s not to say they can’t be educational but entertainment is their primary purpose. Books on the other hand are all about ideas and exchanging ideas and educating and I think placing a rating system on them is like saying “your ideas can only be consumed by people of a certain age” and it restricts the transfer of ideas. You cannot shield children from everything and rating books based on certain subjects would be teaching them that these subjects are taboo and that’s wrong. We should be able to talk about everything and books are a great way of teaching kids about topics that might not be discussed much otherwise. It’s not a good idea to hide information from anyone and by rating books, we would essentially be hiding information from people just because they are not above a certain age. Kids are going to need to learn about things like violence, sex, LGBTQA+, race, rape, mental health issues etc at some point, they may as well learn about them through a safe medium like books and if books get kids talking about topics like this then that’s great!
Yes there are a wide range of YA books and some of them may not be entirely appropriate for all YA readers (since 12-18, which is the generally accepted targeted age range of YA though obviously there are readers who are older than that, me included!) but usually books that have mature content have a warning on them that they contain mature content and I reckon that’s enough, you don’t need to put in age restrictions. Different people have different tolerances to violence, sex etc, for instance, I read a lot of books with violence in and I actually enjoy it because the violence usually comes in the form of fight scenes and I love those, but personally, I don’t really like graphic sex scenes because it makes me feel awkward and so I think it’s up to the reader to decide what they feel comfortable with, not some arbitrary panel of people. Plus, telling any kid, whether it be child, tween or teen what they can’t read is a surefire way to ensure that they read it, because someone telling you that you can’t do something, makes you all the more determined to do it. Rating books might also lead to more books being banned in school libraries and then them not being available for kids to read and in my experience, the books that are banned are exactly the books that are important for kids to read (think books like To Kill A Mockingbird or Perks of Being A Wallflower, both of which have been banned in American school libraries) as they usually talk about important issues and are only banned because people find these issues uncomfortable, and just because you find something uncomfortable, doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be talked about.
And where would you draw the line? What age do you decide is appropriate for kissing scenes for instant? What age is appropriate for violence? What age is appropriate for sex? What age is appropriate for kids getting drunk? Do you rate a book that has one sex scene the same as a book that has multiple sex scenes? Should there be a different rating for books with different kinds of sex (oral, anal)? What age is appropriate for swearing? What if books have multiple incidents of all of these things? What age is appropriate to read about drug use? You can see where I’m going here, there is never going to be one blanket age at which everyone can agree it’s appropriate to read about all of these things and you can never guarantee each and every person who reads a book’s sensitivity to each and every potentially problematic thing. So is it not better to leave it up to the reader to decide? After all we know ourselves and what we feel ready to read better than some arbitrary ratings body will. By all means, warn people about sensitive topics but don’t place some arbitrary rating saying only kids of a certain age can read such and such a book. That’s taking away people’s choices. What if a rating turned young readers off from a book that might have been a good read that they would have enjoyed? People could take rating systems for books too far and prevent people from reading anything that you don’t agree with. There’s nothing to stop parents from preventing their kids reading something they disagree with, but introducing a ratings system for books would mean giving a group of people the chance to prevent other people’s children from reading books that they disagree with, which is fundamentally wrong. There is a fundamental difference between movies and books, movies are visual, books are linguistic, a book will only go as far as the reader’s imagination whereas a movie will go beyond that, something considered inappropriate for young readers in a book will probably go right over their heads, whereas in a movie, the visual is right there in front of them.
Movies usually have to edit their content down in order to make them profitable, as R-rated movies tend to be less profitable than younger rated movies (you only have to look at the highest grossing movies of all time to see that this is true) and if a similar sort of rating system was implemented in books, the same thing would probably happen, they would have to be edited down in order to score a lower rating to make them profitable, and this might mean that more sensitive topics, which are important for kids/tweens/teens to learn about, might be edited out and so you’d be taking away a valuable learning experience from them. You could also have book stores refusing to sell books of a certain maturity level, and so the publishers wouldn’t publish them because they are less profitable. That’s unlikely to happen, but just because it’s unlikely, doesn’t mean it couldn’t.
In movies, one scene can box the entire movie into a higher age category based on a single value and if we imposed the same ratings on books, an entire scene could box a book into an age category and that could mean that any YA book that contains sex or violence or anything like that, even if it’s just one small scene, could mean that it would be rated as an adult book and if the ratings system was as strict as movies and you had to present an ID in order to buy a book (this is an imaginary scenario that would likely never happen, but go with me on this), and anything with sex or violence was rated adult, it would stop teenagers from reading a lot of books that may only have had one small scene featuring something like that, that would otherwise have been really good for them and they might have really enjoyed. Books encompass such a wide range of values and themes, they shouldn’t be boxed in by just one that might be considered inappropriate. Plus there are so many books out there (I mean I know there are lot of movies too, but I think books outnumber them), that even if you found a rating system that worked and wasn’t abused (highly unlikely), it would probably be near impossible to rate every single book published.
Ultimately, this all comes down to the same thing as I said in my post about parents’ censoring their children’s books. Books are subjective, different people have different sensitivities to different things, different people have different maturity levels, different people have different values and kids should be free to learn about difficult topics in a safe environment and not restricted to only being able to read and learn about things that are deemed “appropriate”. Knowledge is for all and I feel like imposing a rating’s system for books could lead down a very slippery slope to censorship. Books are all about imagination and you shouldn’t be able to put an age limit on people’s imagination. Period. There are far too many factors to consider when thinking about a rating system for books and books are very subjective, there would be no way to rate them objectively. I think the system we have at the moment works quite well, books are grouped into advisory age genres, but there is nothing strict in place to stop kids from exploring other age genres if they feel ready to. The system works, why mess with it?
So over to you? Do you think books should be rated like movies? What rating system would you use? Who do you think would be best to decide how books should be rated if we did have an official rating system for books and what values would they be rated on? If you do think books should be rated like movies, why? Let me know in the comments!
I will have another discussion post for you guys next week, talking about the age old question, why is the book always better than the movie? In the meantime though, my next post will probably be my newest Top Ten Tuesday post, so stay tuned for that!