Thursday, November 10, 2011

Parents, Teens, and Inappropriate Reading Material

Yesterday I saw this article about the banning of Nina LaCour's amazing debut novel Hold Still (among others) from a Kansas City high school library. To be honest, it annoyed me beyond belief. (The whole ongoing incident, not the article itself.) It's so clear to me that this is not the way to handle your son or daughter reading a book that you find inappropriate. But maybe it's not so clear to everybody, and definitely I think that there are solid, legitimate reasons to not want your child to be reading something. Books, like any other form of media, aren't all good for all people.

And I fully realize that most people who will read this post either already know all this stuff or don't have children anyway or would never have a problem with anything their kid wants to read, but still I want to post it. It's easy to say that censorship is wrong and banning is bad, but it's also important to discuss how the issues that parents have with books can be handled in a beneficial way and mature way.

So You Don't Like Your Child/Teenager Reading That Book 
Step One: Know what it is in the book that you think is inappropriate. Is it cussing? Drugs? Sex? The overall theme? 

Step Two: Why do you not want your teen reading the book? Is it that you have value-based (religious/ethical) objections to it? Do you think your son or daughter isn't old enough or mature enough to handle the content? If it's drugs, sex, or cussing (three big topics) that are making you uncomfortable -- is it just that it makes you uncomfortable to know that your teen is reading something with that sort of content?

If your objection is based on a feeling of uncomfortableness, step back for a minute. Look at your teenager's environment and look outside of your own home: think about the school they go to, the friends they hang out with, extended family influences, etc etc. And then ask yourself if you're uncomfortable because you really think they'll be harmed by reading that book or if you're uncomfortable because you're just uncomfortable. Is it really an issue with the book? (Hint: probably not. Probably it has more to do with not wanting your teen to be subjected to unpleasant parts of life or not wanting them to grow up too fast or or or... anything else that doesn't really have to do with the story or how it's written.)

If, however, your objection is based on something more -- the overall content of the book or the values/actions portrayed, then...

Step Three: Know what you're talking about. Ideally this would mean reading the book, but if you don't feel comfortable reading the book at least some good, in-depth reviews of it. You may have misinterpreted what you think it's about or, then again, maybe you didn't. Either way, it's good to know.

Step Four: Talk to your teen. Wait, let me repeat that again. TALK. TO. YOUR. TEEN. Tell them your objections. Have a conversation about why this book is unacceptable or inappropriate or whatever word you want to use. Decide together if the book is one that shouldn't be read in your family. If the book is one that your teen is reading for enjoyment, this is where it ends. Don't try to get the book banned from the school, please. If this is an assigned reading book that you have some real objections to then...

Step Five: Talk to your teen's teacher. Set up a meeting where you can discuss your concerns and decide on a course of action; maybe there's a substitute book that could be read instead.

A parent's course of action should not be to try and get the book in question taken out of school. What's too mature or inappropriate for one student is right for another student. Teenagers are people. They do not all come from the same environments or have the same maturity level or the same interests. Blocking a book from other students because you don't want your teenager reading it or you don't think any teenagers - or even any people, really - should read it is harmful to those teens who, maybe, would benefit from reading it. Sure, there are exceptions, but these exceptions are probably books like A How-To Guide for Killers or something like that. They're not the books on your ninth grader's extra credit reading list. 


  1. In my experience, it is always the parent who is uncomfortable. I've had two challenges to books in my time as a librarian, and both of the letters I received challenging the titles bleed of the parent being uncomfortable -- not the teen being uncomfortable.

    The sad part of it all is that it is near impossible to change a parent's opinion, where as educating and discussing big issues with curiosity are fundamental parts of teen development. And it sucks when parents get in the way of that.

  2. interesting.... it would make sense that the parent is the one who is uncomfortable with it...
    i think it's interesting that your last comment, as a librarian, was so articulate: "And it sucks when parents get in the way of that." News flash: teens (yes they are not yet adults) need some guidance and, in my humble opinion, don't need to be exposed to every negative thing in life right now. They get enough of it every day in the halls of their schools and dealing with their "friends". Let's pile more negativity on top of that by reading about how life sucks too. Surround ourselves with as much negativity as we can... I agree with you, as a parent & law enforcement professional, that educating and discussing big issues with curiosity are fundamental parts of teen development. I would challenge you that learning, discussions of "big issues with curiosity" could be funneled toward a more productive & challenging venue. Rather than reading book after book about sex, drugs, violence, teenage angst, etc. There are people doing great things that improves our society/world, lets read about that once in a while. Let's try thinking positively. I am not Pollyanna by any means but she made some good points.