Judy Blume, my favorite childhood author, has it right.
Parents worry “much too much” about what their children are reading.
I’m a reader. I always have been. As a child, I voraciously gobbled up every word, every paragraph, every book I could get my hands on. In the 2nd or 3rd grade, I read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret and surprised my mother by asking what a period was. Sure it was way earlier than she’d anticipated having that conversation, but it was a conversation that needed to happen nonetheless.
That’s how I feel about all books. My childhood was full of books by Christopher Pike, R.L. Stine and VC Andrews – all of which had mature themes including murder and sexuality.
But am I scarred? Did reading those books make me a deviant?
Of course not. Many of the subjects went right over my head. Others I asked about or I did the research myself. I remember pulling out dictionaries and encyclopedias to look up words and find explanations for things I didn’t understand.
That’s not a bad thing.
All of the topics in books that seem to scare parents – foul language, murder, sex, rape – are all, unfortunately, a part of life. We can’t shield children from the ugly, no matter how much we may want to. So if your ten year old picks up a book that has a rape scene or uses language you don’t approve of – have the conversation. Ask them questions and share your beliefs with them, but don’t take the book away.
Books aren’t like movies. We use our minds to create the scenes in our heads. I can promise you 100 times over that if your child reads a tawdry sex scene in a young adult novel, what they see in their head is nothing like what you, as an adult, sees in your head. We go off what we know. We use our imaginations to create the imagery and children just don’t have that much to go on.
When I read the word “bitch” in Blume’s Blubber in elementary school, I am pretty sure I gasped out loud. I knew it was a bad word, but I’d never seen it in print. But guess what? Moving forward I’ve seen and heard that word a million times. It’s part of the English language.
And when I read Blume’s young adult novel, Forever, about a young teenage couple falling in love and having sex for the first time, do you know what I took away from it? Not the desire to have sex, not the idea that maybe everyone was actually doing it. I remember that he names his penis Ralph. That’s what I took away from that book. And that was FUNNY!
No damage was done. No damage was done by reading romance novels in middle and high school. No damage was done by sneaking to my mother’s bookshelf to read books by Danielle Steele and Sidney Sheldon. I wasn’t even damaged by reading the highly inappropriate for children Judy Blume adult novel, Wifey, in eighth grade (although looking back I cannot believe that nobody blinked when I bought that at a used book fair).
Look, I’m not advocating our kids read 50 Shades of Grey. Of course that’s not appropriate. But if your tenth grader finds it at a yard sale for 50 cents and puts it under their pillow to read when they have time alone? I promise you, they’ll be okay.
We know our children. We know what they can handle and what they can’t. Books, movies, etc – all of it is at parental discretion, as it should be. But don’t worry so much about the content of the books your children read. Take joy in the fact that they’re reading at all. Be around to answer any questions that they have. Be happy that they have that desire.
And if they’re sneaking “that” book under their pillow at night…let it slide. They’re learning about life and the world around them – the good, the bad AND the ugly. Take advantage of the educational opportunity, to share your thoughts, values and morals. Talk to them! The world can be a scary place but let’s not make books the enemy.
I know you won’t all agree with me. I know I’ve probably made some people mad, but our kids are going to learn about all of this stuff eventually. I choose to be aware of it and open that door for honest conversation.
*I feel the need to say this here because someone is going to say it or think it – I am not, in any way, shape or form, recommending our children read porn or be handed inappropriate material. I am simply stating that there are books out there, designed for children and young adults, that people take issue with and I don’t believe that’s necessary.