Don’t worry about what your kids read; just worry that they read

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, would see 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 junior or senior in high school 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.
Don't Worry About What Your Kids Are Reading

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  1. says

    I agree! I’m not scarred from reading Flowers in the Attic or Seventeen magazine (when I was 13). My sons read Captain Underpants yet still value books like Wonder and Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry. There are loads of marvelous, erudite books out there. Just because they read something silly or heavy or mature doesn’t mean that’s all they’ll read. Like adults, kids need to mix it up. I believe in variety. And of course, being there to discuss anything they read. My 5th grader just did his biography book report on Idi Amin. Now that was heavy, but he was interested in Uganda since I traveled there. The book was age appropriate and sparked good discussion.

    • Erin L. says

      Thank Ilina. I know I’m not there yet as my kids are still young, but I feel it’s so important that they have that love of reading. It’s served me well in life and I want that for them…no matter what they choose to read.

  2. says

    I think I’d like to have a balance in this area. I do not allow my children to read just anything, but I do not want to control every thing they read. There is no way I’m going to read every book before they read it – ain’t got time for that! I did make some heavy suggestions to my tween daughter because I noticed huge attitude change when she got in to some types of books.

    I really agree with the fact that what they see in their head is a lot different than what I see in my head. I’ve gone back and re-read some books and realized that I had no clue. LOL I also know that the kinds of violence and sex scenes shown in video format – even in ads and billboards – in these days was not around when I was in elementary school so they have suggestions in their heads that I did not have.

    I also disagree with the government or whoever banning books for everybody. That is a personal right/freedom for each person/family to decide.

  3. says

    Yep, I’m right there with you. If anything, I think some of my ‘precocious’ reading made a lot of things much less interesting to experiment with because a) I already understood something about them and b) I had some understanding of the possible consequences. And not to take anything away from Judy Blume or any of the authors we had as kids-tweens-teens (Sweet Valley High 4eva!), but some of the YA writers out there nowadays are just breathtaking. You read some of those books and you feel like you were right there in the story; that a part of you lived the life of those characters.

  4. says

    Very well said. I do have to admit that my 9yr old is finally getting a thirst for books and I do wonder what kind of books I can recommend. Like you said I’m not about to start telling him to read YA novels but at some point I’m sure he will find them for himself. Brilliant post. xx (found your post on Klout)

    • Erin L. says

      Thanks Morgan! Has your son read the Percy Jackson books yet? I’ve heard good things about those.

      • says

        No not yet, he’s working his way through Kingdom Keepers. Its a series of 7 (I think) books about adventures in Walt Disney World. He loves them.

        I’m always looking for new books to suggest so Percy Jackson is going on my list. Thanks!

  5. says

    Well written! Reminds me of a book we all couldn’t wait for our turn to check out during junior high. Best I can recall it had a make-out scene. LOL Hardly R rated, but “naughty” for 7th grade. ;) Now I can’t even recall the details or the book name, but the memory makes me laugh and, I can assure you, I definitely didn’t follow the actions of the characters.

  6. says

    Great post! My son was an advanced reader from a young age, and I had a hard time at first coming up with books that were age appropriate that interested him. I finally broadened what was ok for him to read – and he turned out just fine!

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