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Pregnant cannibal teens from outer space

Nicole Peeler has a genius post up over on my client Richelle Mead’s blog. It’s about the question of how young might be too young for readers to be exposed to certain content. It’s a valid question, and it’s interesting for me to consider how my own feelings on it change.

I was reading wildly inappropriate things when I was a pre-teen—Valley of the Dolls, Lucky, Pet Sematary, Weaveworld. Death, destruction, sex, psychoses: all in my daily reading. My very conservative parents were pretty strict about what I watched on television, but they never seemed to think to monitor what I was reading. In return, I really went for it! The older the book’s intended audience (as far as I understood it), the better. I’d get books from the library just because they were banned. How did I even know they were “banned books?” I must have found a list somewhere. Which is how I led to be really bored by Wide Sargasso Sea years before I should have tackled it…and incredibly confused by The Stranger. It was years before I picked up Camus again. Big surprise: he’s way better than I gave him credit for when I was 12.

Since I’m pretty happy with how I turned out, my opinion always has been, “If you can understand it, you can read it.” I stick by that, but I won’t lie, it totally gave me the weirds when my niece started reading Gossip Girl. And those ARE teen books. I understand the protective instincts that make people want to monitor teen reading, but I don’t agree with it. Kids who are reading for pleasure are naturally inquisitive. They’re also plenty savvy enough to understand the difference between fiction and real life.  Beyond that, I really do believe that more knowledge is always a good thing. And a book is one piece of a larger body of information being consumed. If someone were somehow raised in a Gossip Girl bubble where the books were all they read and the TV show was all they watched then yeah, that might be kind of terrifying. But as one piece of a growing cultural and worldly understanding, no one book will turn someone into a sex-crazed, homicidal beast from hell.

So put everything out there. Pregnant cannibal teens from outer space. Just go for it. Who cares? It’s just a piece of the puzzle. While I’m sure that there are books that incited people to bad actions (Mein Kampf is always my go to as an example of bad books), I don’t believe that any book can in and of  itself create the person who carries those actions out.

What do you think? Am I too easygoing? Are there books that shouldn’t be available to certain age ranges? Are there things that shouldn’t be in teen books?

21 Responses to Pregnant cannibal teens from outer space

  1. M.A. Leslie says:

    I think all reading should be encouraged. Kids, especially mine sometimes, would rather pick up the remote and read the words on the text guide of the direct tv then read a book. Then there are other times when they will read without stopping. They are young for the heavy topics, but when they get older my wife and I are going to let them read what they are interested in and show an interest in it too. What else can we do, simple fact, banning books = bad. Why would I do it to my own children?

    Also, on a side note. Aside from being pregnant, because that would be a generalization. Aren’t all teens cannibals from outer space?

    At least I think I’m funny. Thanks for the post it really got me thinking.

  2. Suzi McGowen says:

    Yes, absolutely there are things that shouldn’t be in teen books.

    Bad writing.

  3. Bethany Neal says:

    I think there are definitely books that make “adults” uncomfortable to see “teens” reading, but I don’t believe in censorship pretty much ever. Instead of withholding such books, I believe parents or guardians or crazy cool aunts (like me) should explain the material to their young readers or (gasp) read it with them. Education is always better than avoidance and ignorance.

  4. Bethany Neal says:

    PS Best blog title ever!

  5. JJ says:

    My reading material was never censored when I was growing up – not because my parents didn’t care but because no one in the family besides me read magazines or books. Because of that, I had the good fortune to be able to explore my way through all kinds of worlds and situations. If I didn’t understand what I was reading at the time, I found out later – and at least had that passing acquaintance to draw on. If I had kids, I’d never censor what they read. I’d talk to them, play ‘what if’ a lot, reason them through some thought processes, but never, ever censor anything they chose to read.

  6. Kiana says:

    When I was a teenager, they didn’t have the young adult category in the bookstores. My mother never paid attention to what I was reading. I used to lend my books to a friend whose mother did care what she read and tried to monitor it. My friend hid the borrowed books under the bed. We both turned out all right.

    I love to read, but I find so many of the classic books and literary novels to be almost inscrutable. (I’m an engineer so I’m not stupid.) If a teenager can read The Grapes of Wrath or To Kill a Mockingbird or any of the other frequently challenged books and enjoy it and understand it, then they ought to be encouraged to read anything they want to read.

    The best way to get teenagers to read something that you don’t want them to read is to try and remove it from the library. If there’s a book that you don’t want a teenager to read tell them how wonderful the book is and that they really must read it. Guaranteed that they won’t read it. Problem solved. :)

  7. Tyhitia says:

    I don’t believe in censoring books for children. I’m sooo glad that I was allowed to read whatever I wanted to. And now I’m a writer. Although there was one particular romance novel that made me put them all down, but I digress.

    The concerned parent or caregiver should discuss the book with the teen after they’re done reading it. And read it themselves if they haven’t already. JMHO.

  8. Alison Jean Ash says:

    My wonderful college freshman English teacher told me, “I think you’re still young enough to enjoy D. H. Lawrence.” [Substitute other authors as desired.] Her point is the converse of Jim’s point about The Stranger: some authors require readers who are avid and not yet overly critical to be be fully appreciated. Young readers who are not allowed to browse freely may miss some good stuff that they won’t care for later.

  9. Suilan says:

    There’s one book I wish I hadn’t come across in my dad’s library as a 12-year old: The History of Torture. Everything humans ever did to each other, tagged and catalogued and described in great detail… and NOT fiction.

  10. I did the same as a teen- I wasn’t allowed to watch Mtv but somehow managed to read a ton of Stephen King. I think that laissez-faire attitude is healthy. I have two boys, so I’ll probably just be thrilled if they’re still reading as teens.

  11. Okay- The one “banned” book, I remember having had the most influence, was Judy Blume’s “Forever.” It was all the rage when I was in ninth grade. All the mothers ganged together to forbid us girls from reading it. Of course, that thing changed hands faster than a kid playing hot potato. We wore it down to the binding and let me tell you, as far as influencing or changing us by reading it?
    Well in this case, I have to say..maybe a little. In certain ways I’m not going to describe here, it made a lot of ninth grade boys very happy. :)

  12. After I submitted the previous post, I realized I was too flip. I was just being a bit nostalgic. Especially since “Forever” is so tame by today’s standards.

    The novel influenced us ONLY in that it addressed issues we were consumed with anyway. Would we have done things any differently had we not read the book? Doubtful.

    At that age, and especially in that era–where there was little to no sex on TV, and you couldn’t get into an R-rated movie–it was a titillating subject. “Forever” just happened to be the only book that talked about sexual experimentation openly. It was special. And it was nice to know there were lots of kids feeling what we were feeling.

    I believe if a book helps a kid feel like they’re not alone, it’s doing its job. Why limit their choices?

  13. Gina Black says:

    My family let me read anything I wanted although every once in a while my mom would tell me she thought I was too young to read/get/enjoy something and that would always deflate my balloon. We let our kids read whatever they wanted. They are now both fully functioning adults with large appetites for literature. :)

    My feeling is that you never want to take away someone’s reach for books. Self-censorship is fine, but any other form is very, very bad.

  14. Ciara says:

    My reading habits were never censored as a child or a teen and it didn’t make any difference. I didn’t always understand what I was reading but I wasn’t scarred for life. For example I remember reading “are you there god it’s me margaret” when I was about seven and I didn’t really have a clue what they were on about. I didn’t run around in terror wondering why 13 was such a traumatic age, i just asked. Children reading above their intended age can start a dialogue with parents. nothing wrong with that!

  15. Lisa Ahn says:

    I read whatever I wanted as a child and teen, mostly because no one else in my family read that much. My oldest daughter is 7 now, and she reads on her own every night, which honestly makes me giddy! She is really becoming a reader, and will quickly outstrip my ability to pre-read everything she chooses. I do guide her towards books that I feel have some merit (i.e. good story, good writing, makes you think), but I won’t forbid books. Instead, I’ve already started reinforcing the idea that if she has a question about something confusing or troubling in a book, she can just ask us about it. Simple.

    My primary goal is for both of our children to love reading, to devour books in the same way I did (and do). My plan is to keep an eye on what they read, not to censor books, but to be available for questions and guidance if they need it. I agree that kids, especially older kids, can tell the difference between fiction and reality. And I know my reality is always better with a good book! So is theirs.

  16. JGStewart says:

    Add me to the ‘Me Too’ chorus. I read tons of ‘inappropriate’ stuff as a kid, without any parental interference, and I’ve only ever knifed a hobo over a frozen pork-chop once.

    I think there’s probably a line there somewhere, though no doubt it’s different for different people. GOSSIP GIRL is one thing, but would you really want your kid/niece/little brother reading, say, hardcore porn, or heavy-duty torture/snuff lit?

    That said, I honestly, I don’t see how any kid who reads above the average level for their age can NOT read ‘inappropriate’ stuff. I suspect, as with most things, parental (or at least adult) involvement is the key.

    Question: do you all feel the same way about video games? Movies? Music? Or is reading unique in this respect? Certainly my own bias is that kids who are reading ‘adult’ stuff are probably a bit more engaged, and bit more savvy, than perhaps their video-game obsessed peers. But I could be wrong–it happened once before…

    ~JGS

    • JGStewart says:

      “I honestly, I don’t see how…”

      Uh, yeah. That’s some erudite stuff right there.

      Brain moving faster than hands. Apply coffee STAT.

    • Jim says:

      I like to think that I’m as open about movies and video games as I am about books, but I’d probably be more lenient with regard to reading because of my own bias which leads me to believe any act of reading is better than none.

  17. Heather Gordon says:

    I agree that all reading should be encouraged. This is especially important in today’s world where there are so many other options for entertainment. At 22 years old, I am the only one of my friends who reads on a regular basis and this is a sad thing for my generation. While I do understand the protective nature of parents, I feel that books are the least of the worries. If a child is at an age where he/she is reading on their own accord, chances are the child has already been exposed to things that the parent would deem inappropriate. As a parent of two girls, I will be grateful if they decided they still want to be readers after my influence has semi-faded from their world. My concern will come if they choose not to read at all; not when I don’t necessarily agree with the material.

  18. Heather Gordon says:

    What’s funny is that I have been an avid reader since a very early age, and yet, I only just recently stumbled upon books whose contents made me blush. I thought to myself: Geesh, are they allowed to print this stuff?!
    Then, I continued reading.

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