There’s been lots of talk lately about what’s “appropriate” for YA. Alice over at Arctic Books recently wrote a post asking How Do You Define YA? and it really got me thinking. You see, my thoughts on the topic are complicated. As a mom of a 12-year-old and a 14-year-old, I find my stance on this more conservative than I would have expected when I was younger. My kids are at the young end of the YA spectrum, and I would honestly balk at handing them a lot of the YA books I’ve read. (And I certainly wouldn’t want them reading some of the books that people have been debating about whether they’re YA or not: books like Nevernight, which I reviewed earlier this week – click on the link to read that review and see my thoughts on the content.)
Neither of my kids are really mature enough to handle a lot of “adult” content. So, as of right now, we often stick to MG books or YA books that I’ve already read. (Luckily, I’ve read a lot of them, so this doesn’t limit us as much as it could.)
But I’ve seen a lot of buzz about this topic on Twitter. About how parents should allow their kids to read anything that’s within their reading abilities and how not allowing them to do this is censorship. I have to raise my eyebrows at this. My kids are advanced readers – if I just went by their reading abilities, they could’ve been reading YA or even adult books years ago. Certainly, reading ability isn’t the only factor.
So, then other people say that kids should be able to decide for themselves what they’re ready for. But, again, I think that depends on maturity – I can tell you right now that my 14-year-old son doesn’t always make the most mature decisions. He thinks he knows everything (at least in the moment – often afterwards he’ll admit when he was in over his head), but he’s still a kid. His judgment isn’t necessarily the best. (I’d actually be more apt to trust my 12-year-old to make good judgments about what she’s ready for – she’s a lot more level-headed.) As a parent, my job is to help my kids navigate what’s best for them – I don’t let them make all of those decisions, and I don’t think I should. There’s no way anyone’s going to make me feel bad about that. (For the record, my kids haven’t really been asking me to read things that I don’t approve of, so this is mostly hypothetical at this point – maybe I made my son wait a little longer to read The Hunger Games than some of his friends, but that’s about the extent of it.)
One thing that has really got me thinking, though, is something I’ve seen as a topic of discussion a lot – why is it that sex is often seen as more objectionable than violence in books? Many people see this as being incredibly hypocritical – that someone would have an issue with their child reading a sex scene, but wouldn’t mind a violent scene (even where someone is killed) nearly as much. I’ll admit that this is true for me – like I said, my son has read The Hunger Games, which is pretty violent, but he’s only read a couple of books that involved sex at all (and the sex was pretty glossed over for the most part).
So, I started asking myself, is there a difference or am I just being hypocritical?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I do think there’s a tangible difference between violence and (explicit) sex in books.
Let me put it to you like this: When was the last time you read a violent scene in a book and you felt like punching someone afterwards? Or the last time you read a book where someone was murdered and you felt the urge to kill someone too? I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume that everyone’s answers to these questions is “never” (especially for that second one!).
BUT when was the last time you read a book with an explicit sex scene and felt a little (or a lot) turned on? Most of us would answer this question a bit differently, right?
Our brains (and our bodies) respond to sex in books differently than they respond to violence. Reading a violent scene doesn’t typically make a person feel particularly violent, but reading a sex scene often makes the reader feel sexually aroused. (Heck, that’s the whole draw of erotica – most people aren’t reading those books for the fascinating plots but for the pleasure of being turned on).
In early adolescence, sexual urges can already be a little overwhelming and confusing – I don’t think I need to throw in the feelings generated by reading sexually explicit books to make things even more complicated. This is my choice for my kids at this time – as they mature, that choice will inevitably evolve, but I’m not leaving it completely up to them to decide – it’s a decision we’ll make together as situations arise.
Now I’m not naive – I know that teens (even younger teens) are already dealing with hormonal issues that they’re figuring out how to navigate. And books that explore sex in a healthy and positive way might even help them navigate some of those issues. But I’m not ready to just let my kids go out and read anything and everything while I simply hope that they’re only picking up on the positive messages and filtering out the negative ones. And I’ve honestly read a lot of YA books that push messages about things like casual sex (or other issues, like casual drug use) that I don’t agree with. That doesn’t mean that I’m going to forbid my kids from ever reading those books, but I’m certainly going to be more careful about when and how my kids are exposed to them (and we’ll be discussing them – much to my kids’ chagrin).
In the end, I guess I feel a little resentful when I see people insisting that me making these types of choices for my children is censorship. (Especially when I note that most of the people dishing out these sorts of opinions don’t have young teens of their own.) I see it as part of parenting – almost no one would advocate letting your kids do whatever they want whenever they “feel ready” to do it. In most areas, we agree that kids aren’t mature enough to make all of their own decisions, so why should it be any different when it comes to reading? Of course, when they’re older teens they’ll have more freedom to decide these things for themselves, but by then I hope that I’ll have set a solid framework for them so that they can take the messages the world is bombarding them with and decide which ones they want to apply and which ones they want to ignore. At least that’s the hope …
I always find it odd when people say “let em read whatever”. I agree- “As a parent, my job is to help my kids navigate what’s best for them” That’s not censorship, that’s good parenting. When kids run wild, people say “where are the parents?” But then when parents try to steer their kids in the right direction, say with books, it’s censorship? And we’re talking young teens I think- no one is telling an 18 yr old they can’t read something. But an early teen- that’s a huge difference.
And your point about violence/ sex. Thank you. You see that a lot- why is violence okay but not sex? But you’re right- sex can arouse, and they’re already little hormone factories. I can’t see how a 12 or 14 yr old reading something sexually explicit is just okay. Maturity varies but to me it’s common sense that parents would want to monitor that. And most parents aren’t book bloggers, so they can’t screen the loads of YA books. So they have no idea what their kids are reading, even if they are involved parents.
I imagine a lot of bloggers will disagree with me but that’s my take.
You make a fantastic point here – so often people complain and ask “where are the parents” when our kids make bad choices, but then when it comes to reading people ask why the parents are getting involved. It doesn’t make a lot of sense: You can’t have it both ways!
Interesting discussion. I don’t have kids, so I probably don’t know what I’m talking about, but parents (usually) know best. If your kids aren’t mature enough to read something, then it’s fine not to let them read it. That being said, I think kids do need some freedom to choose their own books. I started reading Stephen King when I was a kid, and it completely changed my life. I didn’t love reading until I discovered King. My parents weren’t happy about me reading adult horror, but it all turned out okay. (I think.)
I know that there will come a time when my kids will want to read something I’m not thrilled with (like you said with the horror) and I’ll have to figure out where to draw lines. I’m guessing your parents were happy that you found a love of reading, even if they weren’t thrilled with the genre you chose. It’s amazing how much of parenting feels like a negotiation – people aren’t kidding when they tell you to “pick your battles”! Some days, it really does seem like a battle, especially when you’re struggling with the outside world’s perceptions as well as your kids’. I’m discovering it can be a really hard balance! 🙂
I’m with you! I think there’s a lot of societal pressure these days for people not to parent their children in the ways that really matter. We’re told we should obsess over our children’s physical well being but let society shape their values (which is kind of laughable).
The way I see it, certain types of government censorship are bad because the government has very limited rights in that area (or at least it should). Parents have a much greater right–in fact, an obligation–to be prudent on their children’s behalf until they’re old enough to do it themselves.
So I guess I’d say parents have a duty to censor what their children read. It can be tough to know where to draw lines, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t draw them at all.
P.S. This was a GREAT topic! It really got me thinking! 🙂
Yes! I definitely don’t believe in censorship – and I don’t think that my viewpoints on what’s appropriate should affect what other people’s kids are allowed to read. But I DO think that I should have the freedom to determine what’s right for my own kids without being made to feel bad about it.
Now that I have kids of my own, I have to agree with you 100% on this. My 9-year old is not capable of making decisions about what to read yet. She’s MANY years away from it, at this point (let’s not even get into how much I have to convince her read. I keep wondering if I brought the wrong kid home from the hospital.) Anyway, I think it’s super important for us to be parents and give our kids guidance on these issues. I’ll be referring to this post in a few years time, for sure. 🙂
Yes, these pre-teen/early teen years are the hardest to navigate because it’s when our kids start to gravitate toward “older” fiction, but they don’t necessarily know what to expect from it. I actually think my daughter would be absolutely mortified if she accidentally stumbled upon some of the YA books I’ve read. The nice thing is, since I read so much YA, I can help them choose books that I know will suit them – it has to be hard for parents who don’t really read much (or who don’t enjoy YA at all).
It kind of cracks me up when people say that parents telling their kids NOT to read something is censorship. It’s like…no, that’s parenting. People can do it differently, you know? I don’t have kids, but I get what you mean. You know your kids best and if you don’t think they are ready for a certain book or age level of reading, then okay. I don’t believe in censorship but that’s for EVERYONE – meaning, don’t make a whole library or a whole school stop reading a book or giving out a book because you don’t like it. Not for your kids? Perfectly valid. Not for everyone else either? Not cool – and not the same thing as simply parenting.
Anyway, good post! I do think violent scenes and sex scenes in books do tend to bring about different ideas/feelings. On a different note, I find it interesting that the U.S. and the U.K. seem very different when it comes to violence and sex in TV and movies. The U.S. is a-ok with violence and not so much sex, and the U.K. seems to be the opposite. I never got that. haha
What you say about sex and violence in the U.K. is really interesting – I knew that they were okay with sex, but I didn’t realize that they were stricter about violence. Very interesting! I do think that violence on the screen can be a bit more impacting than violence in books sometimes. There are some images you just can’t get out of your head! (The same with sexual images actually – ever accidentally stumbled upon something unpleasant on the internet and thought, “I can’t unsee that!!”? I definitely have.)
You’re right about censoring books for other people being different than making decisions about what your own kids should read. Though I do see sometimes the difficulties with having books readily available in school libraries with no indication of what kind of content is in them – just so kids aren’t accidentally stumbling into content they would have avoided otherwise. It’s a problem without good answers, though – the only thing for parents to do, really, is to pay attention to what their kids are reading (and read ahead when they can!).
Oh dear, I don’t know. Well, I do, but I hate disagreeing with you 😉 First, I have to say that I DON’T have teens, so there’s my disclaimer, and maybe in 10 years I’ll be saying “Nicole, you were right” with my tail between my legs. This is just my thoughts now, they could and very well may change.
I get your points- I find them valid, 100%. And I also think it is wrong to say that you can’t tell your kids what they can’t read, because of COURSE you can, they’re YOUR kids! That is why you are their parent, after all!
I DO think a lot of it depends on the kid themselves, like you said with your son. Some kids may not be ready for something, and that is WHY there are parents to make those kind of decisions.
But, that aside, and assuming my kid was of a decent maturity level… yeah, I am (and again, saying this NOW, things could change hah) not planning on telling them what to read/not read. Basically a large chunk of that stems from my parents never really keeping me from reading anything (within reason obviously- I am not talking about like, ADULT-adult books here, people!) and even though emotionally, I was pretty immature, I still was fine with reading stuff. That was never an issue for me, and so I guess as long as it works for me and my kids, that’s how I plan to operate.
As for you being conservative, well, maybe you are- but that’s okay too! Totally your right, and your prerogative as a parent and a human being! Especially since you are only worried about what YOUR kids are reading and not what ALL the kids are reading. So I say you have to do what you’re comfortable with, and what you feel is right. Screw everyone else! Even me! 😉 LOVE this post by the way, very thought provoking!
Feel free to disagree with me all you want, Shannon. I love you anyway! 🙂
The funny thing is, my parents didn’t monitor what I read either, and I read a few things that were pretty adult as well. For instance, I read the Clan of the Cave Bear series when I was a freshman, which involved scenes of the main character basically enduring sex during her forced marriage (and enjoying it with someone else). Did those books scar me? Well, no – BUT 30 years later, the thing I remember most vividly about those books are the sex scenes (even the positions they were in because that was made a big deal of), so that tells me something about what my brain was processing at the time. I’m fairly certain that if I read those books now, I’d read them very differently. I think I’d like my kids to get to books like that with baby steps instead of jumping right in, like I did.
My other issue is that the boundaries of what are considered ADULT-adult books are changing a LOT and things that would have been considered very adult when I was younger are now being debated. Nevernight is a great example – I don’t know if you’ve read it yet, but that book has some pretty explicit sex scenes. They’re not that different from what you see in an ADULT-adult book, except that there’s less of them (but most of what’s between them is extreme violence, so…). Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book – my issues with it had more to do with pacing than anything else – but I don’t see it as a YA book at all!
I think this is parenting 101. Make decisions for your kids until they are mature enough to make them on their own. Unless I am doing this parenting thing wrong LOL At the same time, I am very open and honest with my kids. I hated growing up being naive because my mom wanted to “protect me.” Now, I don’t talk to them like they’re adults and things are explained in a way they can handle, but I don’t sugar coat it, either.
There have been a few books I was pretty pissed of to find that my son read, (which he got from the school library!) but we would have talked about the reasons why I didn’t want him to read it. However, with his OCD, he will OBSESS about why he can’t read it and end up reading it anyway. But that’s topic for another day.
My point is, it’s hard for me as a parent to find that line. However, most people that have that opinion don’t have kids that age, or at all. It’s easy to say “NICOLE, GET A GRIP,” then make that decision on your own, right?
And I agree about the sex vs violence thing. There’s a different there, for sure.
The line can sometimes be SO hard to find. And I would be frustrated too if my kids were picking up books at the school library that I wasn’t thrilled about. Like you say, you don’t want your kids to be naive or sheltered, but you do want to help them make those decisions – and it’s hard to do when they can pick up books with no input from you.
I agree that being open and honest is the best way to go. My son actually told me outright when he read a book that had something in it that he knew I wouldn’t find appropriate. I was really happy that he felt like he could tell me about it instead of trying to “sneak” it past me. 🙂
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This is such an interesting topic and one I find hard to comment. As a parent, you actually have to handle these issues and make your own rules of how you are going to approach things like sex and violence in books and what you will and won’t let your children read. I can’t comment on that because I am not a parent to a teenager (or a parent at all) I’m just a girl in her 20s who can draw from her own upbringing and apply it to situations. I will never claim your parenting decisions are wrong as it’s your choice and your reasoning is sound, especially your point about sex v violence in books. I am just saying what I experienced growing up.
When I was growing up there was little I was told I couldn’t read. I remember a friend of mine getting told she couldn’t read Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging when we were 11 so I immediately went out and got me a copy to read and it really wasn’t anything terrible that should have stopped us from reading. We may have been a couple of years too young but it was really just an in your face title which grabbed your attention. I mean I was reading books from the adult library since I was about 14 and I discovered the ‘chick-lit’ genre and so read about sex in books quite early. My mom never told me I couldn’t probably as she didn’t want to put me off reading at an early age. I saw nothing wrong with reading about sex at that age and whilst I was a bag of hormones I was also sensible and pretty emotionally mature to be able to handle what I was reading. I see nothing wrong with reading about these things at that age, but then I don’t know what other teenagers are like. Maybe I’m a special case?
I don’t think teenagers should ever be underestimated for what they can handle in a book and they can surprise you with their maturity levels but parents (should hopefully) know their children best and know what they are and aren’t ready to read. I wouldn’t call it censorship for you to decide your child shouldn’t read a book and as you’ve yet to find your children asking to read books you aren’t comfortable reading it’s not an issue. I do think if parents decide they don’t want their children reading a book having a discussion about why you don’t want them reading and why they want to read it would probably be smart. It’s basically like waving a red flag in front of a bull telling a teenager not to do something so talking to them about why would only be sensible to stop them running out and reading it at a friend’s house instead.
In the end, it is hard to say there is a right or wrong way to parenting. It’s not like you get handed a how-to guide upon leaving the hospital, is it?
Oh, I so wish I had that how-to guide some days! I agree with you that the key is talking to my kids. Even though I say that I wouldn’t allow my kids to read certain things right now, I would definitely talk to them about it. So far, it hasn’t been a big problem because they know I’m pretty reasonable about things. And I’m happy to say that when a book did slip through (that I made the mistake of not reading first) my son told me about it – he was like, “Um, yeah, there was something in this book you definitely would have found inappropriate.” I didn’t freak out or anything – I just said, “Thanks for letting me know. I’m sure you’ll run across things like that sometimes – it’s not the end of the world, but I’m glad you came and told me about it.” Now I just have to go read that book and see what it is he read! 🙂
I can imagine especially as it seems every few years it seems to be decided that everything that has been done previously in childcare is utterly wrong and you have to do the opposite. I hear people talking about how you can’t do this and you must do that when talking about their kids and I’m just wondering where they got these ideas from?
And that’s impressive, the fact your son is willing to tell you he thinks you wouldn’t be comfortable he read about is so impressive. I don’t think I would have always been honest enough to do that with my mom. I think that just shows one thing which works for one parent doesn’t always work for another and isn’t that just a nightmare because you can’t just employ a blanket rule which all parents should follow!
Great and necessary post! I do not understand why sex is more taboo than violence and certain types of violence like hate crimes. Yes, these are a reality but so is sex and I’m not sure YA is a place that shouldn’t think about what content is appropriate in all cases, including violence and sex.
I agree that certain types of violence can put forth just as negative a message as certain types of sex in books. In cases of BOTH sex and violence I try to evaluate whether or not my kids are ready for the messages they’re getting.
I totally agree. I firmly believe in a parent’s right to censor their children’s reading. They ARE the parents. I also believe that as teenagers get older they need to be guided in learning how to make their own decisions. A responsible parent helps their children find the information they need to be a healthy & responsible adult, and doesn’t just depend on fiction(!) books and friends to inform them.
Yeah, I’ve seen lots of people say that kids need to learn about sex somehow, but I don’t necessarily think that a lot of fiction out there is necessarily the best for that – a lot of books I’ve read have really mixed messages. If I were to give one of those to my kids (when they’re older), I’d definitely want to talk to them about why I think the messages were unhealthy.
Oh I would definitely say there is a distinct difference between violence in books and sex in books. As a bit of the older YA reader, I do read everything and don’t mind it. At 14 I was reading some pretty explicit things, but I was pretty mature back then. I would say though, that there is maybe a call for YA to split into two genres? Like, having the YA for younger audiences where it is mostly clean and not all too explicit, and then the YA for more mature audiences, who might be 16 or above. That would solve a lot of issues many adults have with the genre.
I do wish there were some sort of delineations between YA reads that don’t have any sexual content and books that do – I know that the mere mention of that often brings out cries of “censorship!” but I think it would be helpful for those of us with younger YA readers. For now, I just rely on reading the books myself or reading other people’s reviews and seeing what they say about content.
This is such an interesting discussion, and it was definitely interesting to see this topic from the perspective of someone who has two teenage children. Personally I agree with you. There’s definitely more to it than just what reading level the teenager is at, because some people are incredibly advanced readers for their age, but that doesn’t mean they’re mature enough to deal with some of the content you find in some YA books. It should definitely be up to the parent as to what their child can handle, because everyone is different and reaches different levels of maturity at different times.
My parents didn’t check up on what I was reading too much when I was a teen because I was quite sensible, but even then I occasionally stumbled upon material that was probably a bit too mature for me, and I just found it confusing, and I felt as if it was something I wasn’t really ready to read.
Yes, the problem is that it’s really easy to stumble into reading something you’re not ready for nowadays because content in YA books has gotten more and more “adult” – which is fine for older YA readers who are ready for that, but it makes it hard for me to just take my kids to the YA section of the library and say, “Pick anything that sounds good to you!” For now, I’d rather read the books first and then recommend the ones I think would appeal to them and that have content I’m fine with.
I just used that same stock photo for one of my upcoming post graphics, haha. Except my post is about spoilers 😛 Anyway…
Kudos to your for this post because you’ve given me a lot of food for thought and made me reconsider some things. I do sometimes think about how strange it is that society is so averse to sex in media yet graphic violence is ok. The way I see, sex is a lot more normal and healthy of a thing than violence (when it’s done safely, obviously). But you do make a good point that reading about violence doesn’t make people feel like murdering whereas a graphic sex scene could just add to the problem of the already problematic hormones in teens. (Though, in defense of the teens, reading about sex doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to want to go out and do it themselves.) But on the other hand, reading about so much violence could make kids/teens believe that maybe violence isn’t a big deal… I know that wasn’t really your point, but I don’t know, I’m not sure how I feel about whether sex and violence are that different.
But also, the way you explained helping your teens navigate and all that, when you explain it like that, it definitely sounds reasonable and like the right thing to do as a parent. I do think there are parents out there who do know how mature their teens are what they are and aren’t ready for. That’s completely fair. I think it’s just that people are worried about those parents out there who are overprotective and go to more extremes with censorship, not allowing their teens to read anything that might be “inappropriate” even if they are ready, even if it could be helpful to learn and explore healthy portrayals and all that. Does that make sense? So you’re not being too conservative, but I think some people out there are.
Great post! It is nice to see the POV of someone who actually is a mother with teenagers.
I could totally see how that picture could be perfect for a post about spoilers!
I’m glad I could give you a new perspective on the issue. I’ve gone back and forth on the sex vs. violence issue, but I always find myself ending up a little more conservative when it comes to sex than I do with violence (though I’m not advocating ultra-violent books for young YA readers either – like I said, I made my son wait a bit longer to read The Hunger Games than some of his friends’ moms did, but I did let him read them – and we just discussed it while he was reading). I really had to sit down and think about whether this was hypocritical and why I felt there was a difference – processing that is part of what made me write this post. And I definitely agree that sex is more normal and healthy than violence, but I sometimes feel like it’s not always portrayed in the healthiest of ways. It’s too much of a given in some YA books today. Like you meet a boy/girl you like, you kiss, you have sex … with very few steps in between. Obviously I don’t think that every kid that reads books like this is going to follow this pattern, but I do worry a bit that it’s becoming the “norm” in media – movies, TV and books – and we also see kids having sex at younger and younger ages pretty regularly because it’s seen as “no big deal.” I start to wonder if it’s the media that’s affecting real life or vice versa… Since I don’t have good answers, I choose to err on the conservative side and just not give my kids books with those messages at this age. When they’re a bit older (the day is probably coming sooner than I’d like to think with my 14-year-old), I think they might actually be great springboards for conversation, but we’re not at that point yet. And anything explicit just doesn’t feel right for them at this point either.
I definitely agree, though, that some people probably take this too far and forbid their kids from reading books that might actually help them navigate their teen years. Since I don’t know them or their situation or their kids, though, I tend to be pretty forgiving and I feel like they have the right to make decisions on their own about that. Like many things in life, kids might not always agree with their parents’ decisions about what’s right for them – and adults may not all agree about everything either – but the same way I don’t want others telling me what decisions are right for my kids, I don’t want to tell others that they’re “wrong” for their views. In parenting, I’ve found that there are seldom right and wrong answers (unless we’re talking about true extremes) and figuring out all the shades of gray can be a very daunting task!
I agree that I don’t like how it’s portrayed as the norm to meet, kiss, fall in love, have sex, whatever. So I understand your concern over that. But as you said, using the books as a springboard for conversation is probably a lot more helpful than just banning all books with sex.
It’s just, when I was a teen, my parents really didn’t let me read outside the YA section, aside from the Anne Rice books I read. And I’m pretty sure if they realized there were some sexual things in those books, they wouldn’t have let me read those either. And I did once manage to smuggle a couple romance novels into the house, haha. But I was always pretty mature and never felt like I wasn’t ready or able to handle what I read, and it definitely didn’t make me feel like I needed to run out and have sex myself at a young age. So I just felt kind of stifled as a teen (especially since I had already read like all the books I was interested in in the YA section at the store lol), and the thought of not having gotten to read some of those books that I loved as a teen had my parents been even stricter is what makes me concerned about parents who might go *too* far.
This is why we all have such unique perspectives – we’re all shaped by our own experiences. I’m hoping that the fact that I’m open to communication with my kids will help the resentment factor. Right now my kids know that there are certain things that I think are inappropriate, and they accept that. They haven’t really pushed back at all, but I’m sure it’s coming, and then we’ll have to deal with each new situation as it comes!
Oh geez this is a tough one!! I don’t have a teenager yet (my son is 8), but someday I will and GAH, I have no idea what I’ll do. My mom never told me I was too young to watch certain movies or listen to music or read books or whatever, and I always appreciated her laying off and giving me my freedom with that stuff. BUT I see your point as well. I think everyone should do whatever with their own kids and not worry about what other people are doing with theirs. There is WAY too much parental judgement… and like you said, from people who don’t even have kids or kids as old as your kids. That’s sort of another topic, but ughhh it’s annoying!! I hope when my son is older I won’t have to be all up in his business and can just let him decide what he’s ready for, but who knows????
Yes, it can be frustrating to see twenty-year-olds doling out parental wisdom or condemnation. I do remember, though, what it was like to be that age: We think that since we’ve lived out those teen years we know what it’s like to parent someone at that age. It’s not until you actually get to all these stages of parenting that you realize how much you really don’t know and how so many situations are way tougher to figure out than you thought they’d be!
If you choose to let your son watch and read whatever he wants when he gets to my son’s age then I think that’s just fine – just like I don’t want people telling me I’m wrong for my choices, I certainly don’t want to judge what other people think their kids are ready for or how they choose to monitor their kids’ activities. I agree that there’s way too much parental judgment out there! If there’s one thing I’ve learned from parenting, it’s that there are seldom easy answers and there’s almost never a one-size-fits-all – even with my own three kids, sometimes what works with one definitely doesn’t work with another.
I guess that when it comes to sex vs violence, I would rather my kids read about a healthy relationship where there is sex, than about really violent characters that commit horrendous crimes. Make love, not war and all that…
That being said, I wouldn’t put an erotica book into my kids’ hands, because I think that could be as detrimental to them as watching p*rn on the internet could be. However, a well written story, with characters that show each other love and respect, and who then have SAFE sex, that’s something I can completely stand behind. I agree, hormones are definitely running rampant for teenagers, but those who are curious about sex, and want to know more about it – I’d rather they (and when I say ‘they’ I really mean my own teenangers, not anybody else’s) read about a healthy relationship than see something they can’t unsee…
I do agree that this all depends on the maturity levels of our children, and what we think they would be comfortable reading about. And while I have let my children read any book they have asked me for, sadly, they aren’t really big readers.
We also have conversations about absolutely everything in our house. The kids (even the youngest who’s 11 now) watch the news, and we discuss politics and current events. If they have questions about sex, they know they can ask us (or their older siblings) there really are no taboo subjects. And for us, this is something that has worked very well. They have a question, we talk about it – as we might not always have the exact same point of view – and we always stress that showing other people respect for their own personal choices and preferences is very important. And that we can do what we like as long as we do it with people who want to do those things with us, and that both we and the people we’re with are treated with respect and love. And if other people think they should judge us, then, that’s their problem, not ours.
Sorry this became so long…
Sounds like you have a really healthy attitude about communication with your kids, and I honestly think that’s the most important thing. And I completely agree that we need to worry about our own families and let our kids know that our decisions may not be the same as other people’s but that doesn’t mean that we should judge them – or pay attention if they think they should judge us!
I do see what you’re saying. I don’t have kids, so my position on this may change once I do. When I was younger, I read mostly romance novels so of course, there was a lot of sex. I do think it’s crazy that sometimes people object more to the sex than the violence, but I guess I never thought about the reasons before and your reasons actually kind of make sense. You are right that explicit sex scenes in books make me want to have sex more than seeing violence makes me want to kill someone. I get that. My opinion is that YOU know your kids better than anyone. Personally, I wouldn’t stop my kids from reading books with sex scenes and I would use it as a tool for discussion. That’s probably because my parents didn’t actually care about what I read at all. But again, my opinion may change when I have kids. Now do I think you are censoring your kids because you don’t let them read certain things? NO. YOU are their mother and like I said, YOU know them better than anyone. If you think they are too immature to handle certain topics, then no one else should question that. I think every parent should decide for themselves what is best in terms of reading for their kids and I don’t think they should be judged for that.
Ironically, my parents didn’t care what I read either. You’d think I’d be one of those people advocating letting kids read whatever they want! I’m actually more conservative than my parents were when I was a kid, but I was one of those really “good” kids who didn’t need much extra attention. 🙂 But I didn’t get my hands on anything that went into explicit detail about sex – and nowadays I think it’s a lot easier to stumble on that sort of thing. I’d rather be proactive and make sure both my kids and I know what they’re getting into when they start a book. For instance, if I’d handed my son Nevernight because I thought it was YA, I think we both would have been in for a big shock!
This is a discussion I’ve held forth on specifically regarding Nevernight elsewhere, so I’ve followed this one with great interest. As my 11 yr old dyslexic granddaughter is beginning to want to pick up books, I’m now in the situation where I’m mediating her reading matter while she stays with us. And yes – I was one of those feral readers, who picked up and read anything I could get my hands on. And I vividly recall reading a rape scene aged 12 yrs old, feeling sick and shaking inside and crying and yet – horribly, also finding myself aroused. It was horrible and made me ashamed and confused. And in those days, you did NOT rush off to find an adult to discuss this stuff with, especially as I was aware I was reading a book I shouldn’t have picked up in the first place… So do I want the youngsters in my life going through that experience? Nope.
One of the major differences between sex and violence depicted in books is that most of us don’t expect to stab/kill/kidnap anyone, whereas most of us in our teens are expecting to have sex at some stage and are looking at books as some kind of guidance, whether we think we are, or not. Therefore, yes, do protect your young teens from inappropriate content – it can be damaging and upsetting.
Yes, I don’t think that all sex in books is necessarily damaging, but I do think that the wrong exposure to it at a young age can be confusing and negative. I’d prefer to know what my kids are reading so that we can talk about it – though talking through those kinds of things (even now) can be a challenge!
I do agree with this. I didn’t let my son or daughter read romance novels-I don’t mean other books with sex, I mean romance novels. Why? The whole thing-girl can be flawed and act horrible but man is strong, great looking, awesome fighter but sweet to her and no matter how horrible his life or how he seems, the love of a good woman will make this guy behave like her true love and he will take care of her forever. I never wanted my kids to get this idea. My daughter I didn’t worry about. Her I didn’t want reading cosmo and 17-with the idea girls need to be skinny and blonde (which she was, but I didn’t want her thinking her worth was as a sex object). I also didn’t want my son to feel he had to live up to a romance authors picture of what a girl wants.
Your description of romance novels made me laugh – I think you’ve described a whole lot of them really well with this one paragraph!
First, I’m not a parent, so I’m not a great judge. Personally, I think it depends on the child and that each parent needs to do what they think is best for their child. When I was a child, I was allowed to read whatever my mom could get me to read. I didn’t read a lot. My older brother was a late bloomer and it took a while for him to get to read and teachers had told my mom to let him read whatever he wanted. Being a huge sports guy, he read Sports Illustrated and the newspaper’s sports page. That was what he wanted to read. My mom used the same thing with me. She knew I liked horror movies, so she gave me one of her Stephen King books. I was reading Misery when I was thirteen. I had several teachers take it away from me because they thought it was inappropriate. My mom just wanted me to read. Great post.
I saw JLA post something a while ago and it stuck with me. She was talking about how YA just means that that is the age group of the characters. Same as NA and Adult. She was saying that it doesn’t affect what she puts in a book. That if she wants to write a sexually explicit scene in a book that has characters that are YA then that’s perfectly fine. Those age groups don’t define what she will or won’t put in a book.
Now with that being said, I’ve read a lot of YA books that are way more disturbing than NA or Adult books that I’ve picked up. So I completely agree with you that as a parent it is our job to help them pick and chose what they can read. I think that there are so many YA books that aren’t age appropriate for a 14 year old. And I think it’s awesome when parents want to help their kids pick books that they are emotionally capable of reading. Just like movies or life situations. I mean heck, we all know those parents that allowed their kids to watch horror movies at the age of 8 and then thought it was a good idea to show that horror movie at a slumber party and traumatized the other kids that weren’t their own at said slumber party. That happened to both my husband and I. We were NOT emotionally ready to watch IT or Jason movies. And our parents made great decisions by not allowing us to watch them. So yes, it’s a great idea for parents to help their kids pick books that are a good fit for them and don’t traumatize or push them too far.
Now when do you allow them to make decisions on their own in regards to books? I think it has a lot to do with maturity and what they are able to handle. And as parents I think it’s our job to let them pick and chose their books when they are emotionally ready for that. Whether it’s 14/16/17 is kinda going to be a case by case basis, I think. Now let’s wait a few years and see what I say again when my boys are older lol. Great post, Nicole!
I would say that in general your points about sexual content for younger readers and parenting is on point. I, however, don’t fit that mold. I read all of my mother’s romance novels as a pre-teen and early teenager. I read Outlander at age 13 or 14. That book covers a WIDE array of topics.
The caveat here is I did this behind my mother’s back. I think after a while she figured it out (maybe, I don’t know) and was just OK with it despite our anger-fueled relationship. I’m sure a psychologist would love to pick that apart. But, not once did my reading choices affect my choices in real life. In fact, it made me realize how important sex and relationships actually are. The differences between those female characters and myself was that we were exact opposites. I was not ready for that IRL, but like my mother, I am a romantic at heart and I just loved reading those stories.
I do support parents keeping tabs on their child’s reading (and internet activities) because I’ve seen what a degree of destruction and mental health concerns it can cause. I teach those kids – the ones who think Slenderman is real and their parents have no clue about anything. A parent should be involved, but I think it really depends on the kid. If my mom had known about my reading choices from the start, or I had asked her, I think she would have said no. Even though she was my mom, she didn’t realize I was ready to read that content. It’s something that a parent has to really discuss and analyze with their child, but no one should make a parent feel bad about their choices made with their child – unless it crosses a line that is actually damaging to the child (particularly mentally/emotionally).
How did I miss this post and discussion?!? This is a big topic of interest for me, as I’m building a big classroom library for middle schoolers who range in age from 11-15, and who come from families with policies as varied as, “My mom dropped me off to see 50 Shades of Gray” to “My dad forbids my mom and me to read any Harry Potter.” Both of which are actual things kids have told me, and both of which horrify me. I’d say I 100% support a parent’s right to decide what is and isn’t appropriate for their child, and I 100% believe that I should have a wide range of books in my classroom, not be a gatekeeper or censor. I read Clan of the Cave Bear series even younger, as well as some straight-up smut my dad thought was safe in his bedside drawer. But the books I read at that age that were disturbing to me were Flowers in the Attic and Anne Rule’s true crime book about Ted Bundy. I still don’t read true crime or gross-out horror.
As for my own kids, I guess the silver lining of raising struggling readers is that they aren’t able to access stuff beyond their maturity level yet anyway! But I don’t think I’d stop them from reading anything if they were able to. Like you said, I’d want to talk about it with them, but I’d be a lot more concerned about them watching TV/movies/online stuff than about reading. There’s that layer of distance when you read.
SUPER interesting topic.
I would say dad forbidding mom anything is a HUGE red flag.
[…] Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction posted this insightful discussion on Sex and Violence in YA. […]
This is such a great post, Nicole. I definitely agree with you on a lot of what you’ve written. On one hand I’m extremely anti-censorship but I also understand that there is a need to make sure people are ready for what they read. I’m only 18 and don’t have kids so I tend to lean more towards the “let kids decide what they want to read” argument but at the same time, I tend to recommend books with less sexual content to my sister, despite me reading the same things. Not sure if much of that made sense but your post has definitely got me thinking so thanks for that!
Zareena @ The Slanted Bookshelf
I object to violence far more than to sex. I don’t have a problem with my YA reader getting a bit interested in the idea. I think mine were just as capable of choosing not to go have sex as they were to not kill someone. I also think our culture has normalized violence and made sex “dirty”. Violence is never ok ( unless you are defending yourself or killing to survive) sex IS ok at times. Since my own kids are now adults and I know they both waited quite a while for a physical relationship. Once still has not done anything that could result in serious consequences and both use protection. Responsible sex should be normalized. Violence should not. For those who dougt me and think my kids just lied…I also had a very open mom and dad and I waited till I met my first husband as an adult. So people who have not had it made into this forbidden fruit thing DO wait. If your 14 year old is actually sexing intercourse because a book made them think of it, there are many other issues at play.
You make some good points here. I definitely don’t think that reading a book with sex in it will make a kid go out and have sex the next day. And you’re right that normalized violence can be a huge issue. Thanks for your thoughts!