Let the kids decide

Here’s a good piece from The Guardian about parents choosing books for their kids.

I’m sure most parents who chose for their children have good intentions but we have to remember that it’s much the same as choosing an ice cream flavour for them, telling them what they can watch on TV or selecting a house for them to live in when they leave home. Much as we might prefer otherwise, our kids have different tastes from us. If we try to squeeze them into our own mould, they’ll resent it.

We can tell them what we like and why. We can point them toward books that are relevant to their interests. We can lead a horse to water… but the horse has to want to drink.

I grew up well before the Young Adult category was invented. I quickly read everything of interest in the school libraries and moved on to books that captured my attention. Agatha Christie and Ian Fleming featured early and then I moved on to Stephen King, James Herbert, James Clavell and other blockbuster authors. The books weren’t ‘age appropriate’ but they kept me reading. I think that’s a win.

I was leaving the council library recently when a librarian stopped me to say some of the books the Little Dragon was carrying “were in the young adult section for a reason”. I smiled and borrowed them anyway.

As it happens, some of the allegedly dangerous books were for me and some for the Little Dragon (mainly manga). He’s nine so I do try to suss out the contents of the stories – and censor some. If the stories are too mature they don’t tend to hold his attention anyway so he self-censors too. When he chose ‘How To Get Dumped’, both his parents raised an eyebrow – and we both read it after him, partly to see what had captivated him so. I couldn’t see anything harmful in the contents. Far from it. I’m impressed that it interested him enough to seek out other titles by the same author. (Pat Flynn)

But I am conscious I need to be careful. A student asked me last week for a list of my favourite YA books and I provided it. Some of my recommendations feature drug/alcohol abuse, violence, profanity and ‘sexual references’. I can’t know how mature the student is or what her parents will think if they review what she is reading. As The Guardian piece says, the librarian has a crucial role here in knowing the students and what they can handle.

That said, I’d rather my children explore these topics and learn about the risks involved via books, than experiment in real life. If that means reading things that are deemed age-inappropriate, so be it.

2 thoughts on “Let the kids decide”

  1. I could not agree more with your post. I was reading things that perhaps I shouldn’t have been reading at an age far younger than would be recommended. And I loved them. I read Stephen King’s- IT when I was 12. Didn’t hurt me, cept now I have a pathological fear of clowns, but whatever!

    I find it curious that a librarian stopped you the parent with your child and commented, I would have assumed you were well aware and trusting your child could handle the content.

    The only time I ‘censor’ books for our students at Manor Lakes is when there are some high range emotional issues, such as rape etc. I still HAVE the books and I make individual borrowing decisions based on what I know about a particular student. Having said that I am in the luxurious position of ‘knowing’ most all of our 840 odd kids. I know what they are able to handle and cope with. And because I have read the book myself, I am able to discuss any issues with them as they encounter them. I am still hyper aware of a parent rampaging into my library and telling me off for letting their child borrow a book that has swearing or sex, drug use or drinking in it. However, I have taken that risk and have an argument prepared to back me up.

    Recently at a Clayton’s Evening for the CBCA I was admonished for allowing Year 5 students to borrow Twilight. ‘What about the sexual tension’ was the comment made. I think what we are all forgetting here (not you Tim) is PRIOR KNOWLEDGE. An 11 year old is simply going to see the ‘tension’ between Bella and Edward as “oh I so wish he would kiss her” Adult women are the ones yearning for the chaste ‘kiss’ to become total abandon. (I apologise for not having a better analogy, we all know how I feel about Twilight)

    Long story short. A child or Young Adult will only comprehend as much of the content as their prior knowledge allows. No more. And if they have the prior knowledge to deal with it, reading a book with similar content may well help them see they are not alone, at the very least help them to work through the issue themselves. As ‘grown ups’ I believe it is indeed a fatal mistake to say no to a particular book. At the worst we turn them off reading. At best we make it a covert game of hide and seek. They WILL find the book if they want it badly enough. Forbidden fruit people…..

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.