What do you let your child read?

12 Jul

Natasha at Maw Books posed a very interesting question on her blog. I’d strongly suggest you head over there and read her post and the discussion there. The question concerns whether you’d let your child read a book by an author convicted of possession of child pornography.

I answered there, but the question started me thinking, and I wanted to get some of those thoughts down in a lengthier fashion here.

What do I let my daughter read?

My general philosophy regarding my daughter’s reading (and movie and TV viewing, which I’m stricter with than I am with books) is that my job is to give her the tools she needs to make her own decisions, and the skills to deal with it when she doesn’t make the right ones.

I’m lucky in that my daughter (now 12 years old) isn’t a boundary pusher.   If I tell her that I don’t think something is a good choice for her, that’s usually the end of it.  She’s now interested in my reasons, which I think is a good thing.

When has this come up? The younger years.

When my daughter was young, this rarely came up– Her friends at school had similar taste in books, so she didn’t ask about many books that caused any hesitation on my part.  I can think of two examples of when we went beyond an initial discussion.  They both were books that dealt with difficult subjects, rather than inappropriate ones.

The first time was when she was in second grade, and was reading through the American Girl books.  I hadn’t yet bought her the Addy books, which deal with slavery, but I hadn’t told her why I was holding off.  When I asked her if she wanted to get them, she said yes, but she’d already read them at school.  I asked her what she thought, and we talked a little about slavery, which she pronounced “weird”.

(Two follow-ups on this:  We let her pick whichever historical American Girl she wanted for her birthday later that year.  She picked Addy, because she had the most interesting character and best story, even though some of the other dolls had prettier clothes.  Also, about a year after reading the Addy books she read something dealing with more modern racism.  She was far angrier than she’d been over the Addy books– they had happened in the past, she didn’t think that people would still behave like that NOW).

The second was a similar situation, with Number the Stars.  She was in third grade, and the middle school put on a play based on the book, which deals with children escaping from Nazi Germany.  For her age group, the parents and the kids both had the opportunity to opt out of watching it, so we talked about it, comparing it to Addy’s escape from slavery.  She watched it and was so impressed she wanted to read the book.

I bought it, telling her that I thought it would be a good one for us to read together (I was as concerned with reading level as content).  She immediately picked it up and read it herself, and again, we had a good discussion afterward.  I’m glad we talked about it, and she proved more ready to deal with the issues than I gave her credit for.

What about now?

The issues are much different now.  She has a great group of friends, many of whom also really enjoy reading, and some of them are moving on to books with older themes.  She’s starting to enjoy a romantic aspect of books.   She now sees my books around the house, and asks about them (I remember that 7th grade was when I transitioned to reading adult books).

I tell her what I think she might/might not like about the book in question (if I need to look it up, I will).  In many cases, saying I think it’s too grownup for her is enough.  If she wants more information, I’ll oblige– I think in some cases, she’s interested in a conversation rather than a book, so turning the discussion to other books suits her even better, but if she’s legitimately interested, we get into whatever detail she wants.

I have discovered there is a difference between the content I will recommend for her, and what I will approve for her.    This seems obvious to me in retrospect, but I hadn’t really expected it.  In general, I’m not going to introduce a difficult subject unless she’s shown interest or I think she’s going to need to deal with it for some reason (like giving her Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret a few years ago.  She didn’t have any interest in talking about those particular aspects of growing up, so I thought giving it a fictional face would help.)

You can read on my blog about when someone gave her a copy of Twilight for her 11th birthday.  The conclusion was that I told her I thought she’d like it better in a year or so– it was very focused on romance, which she wasn’t particularly interested in yet.  She elected to wait.  She asked me about it this summer, but hasn’t gotten around to getting out her copy to read.

I’m not sure how I’d handle it if I had a child that (for instance) sought out violence in his/her books.  I do know that once my daughter leaves her elementary/middle school, with its safe library, I’ll lose control of what she reads.  I’m much better off instilling skills rather than compelling obedience.

But what about Natasha’s Question?

Yes, I know this is far afield from the original question Natasha asked.

I do know I wouldn’t want to buy books by a convicted pedophile, simply because I wouldn’t want to support him.

If my daughter wanted to read books by such a person, what would I say?  Could she read them from the library or borrowed from a friend who bought before the news broke?

Unless my daughter had reason to think the subject matter was iffy, it wouldn’t even occur to her to ask me, so it might be a moot point.  If she did ask, I’d tell her why I objected, but if she still wanted to, I’d probably let her, although I might want to read the book myself first.

After I picked my daughter up from her morning at photography camp, we had lunch, and she asked what I did today.  We got to talking about this blog post.  It turns out she has very strong opinions about separating the book from the author.  We had a good discussion, but I don’t think I changed her mind.

What do you think?  Where are your boundaries?  What do you think your primary mission is with regards to your children and what they read?  How does it change as they age?


Posted by on July 12, 2010 in books, Me


Tags: , ,

10 responses to “What do you let your child read?

  1. Marce

    July 13, 2010 at 5:01 am

    Very interesting question and discussion.

    My daughter is only 3 but I do look forward to us reading books together and having a feel like you if she is ready for the content or not.

    In regards to Natasha’s question I would buy or allow her to read it mainly because the world unfortunately has those with talents that have did bad things but we don’t know even half of them and if we got to know the details of everyone I think we may want to live in a bubble.

    Example – if it was a convicted pedophile and he wrote a child’s book I am not having the conversation about pedophile with her.

  2. Kandace

    July 13, 2010 at 7:38 am

    I agree with your daugter about separating the author from the book. Sure, I will read a book with certain proven authors, but their Lives make no difference to me. I never know who they are or what they do & don’t worry about it. My kids are 5 & 3, so it is easy to decide what boks they have at this point. But in the future I doubt I would judge a book by anything other than the book itself Unless I have looked at other books by the author & found them unacceptable.

  3. Jen - Devourer of Books

    July 13, 2010 at 3:39 pm

    Daniel’s not really old enough for me to deal with this yet, but theoretically this is my philosophy as well.

  4. Melissa V.

    July 13, 2010 at 4:13 pm

    I have a 12 yr old, and have been asked before if I censor what she reads. The answer is not really, unless I feel the content is way above what’s appropriate. She reads a lot of the YA books I have, and read, and have had some great discussions about them.

  5. Suey

    July 14, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Lots of interesting questions here to ponder. I feel like I’m pretty lenient when it comes to what my kids read, which I don’t know if it’s a good or bad thing. (That being said, I still won’t have my 11 daughter read Twilight… maybe at 14 or something, though she has seen all the movies.) She wants to read Ann Frank and I wondered about that for a split second, but we already had the discussion, which caused her to want to read it. So… I think if she really goes for it, it will be a great thing.

    As for my 18 year old daughter, I’m trying to get her to read stuff other than YA. Lately she’s picked up and devoured The Kite Runner, The Road, To Kill a Mockingbird, and other such deep subjected books.

    Now, if I could just get my 15 year old (boy) to read anything!!

    As for the other question, I too would hope to be able to separate the book from the author, though in cases like this, it would be hard.

  6. Sue Jackson

    July 14, 2010 at 4:18 pm

    Wow, great discussion and an excellent post, Laura. My sons are 12 and 15 (almost 16) and I don’t think I’ve ever had to censor what they read. In fact, I’ve recently introduced my oldest to some grown-up authors” – Michael Crichton, Robert Ludlum, and he’s currently reading his first Stephen King book!

    My youngest is a very skilled bur reluctant reader – he’d rather be doing something active! So, I’m usually trying to entice him to read “older” stuff because he tends to stick only to old favorites that are below his reading level.

    I do think 11 is too young for Twilight, so I’m with you on that. The books are really meant for teens. I think the media pushes girls to grow up too soon.

    I’m also cautious about what my kids watch in TV and movies – they’ve only recently begun to watch PG-13s!


  7. Natasha @ Maw Books

    July 14, 2010 at 9:54 pm

    I think you bring up an excellent point Laura. My boys are obviously much younger but I think that when they are older there will be a huge difference in the books that I recommend to them and the books that I would allow them to read but not necessarily with me pushing them into their hands. I hope that as I teach my boys that I will give them the skills to be able to judge for themselves what they feel they should read.

  8. Marina Peregrino

    July 15, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    Hi Laura,

    Very interesting discussions. I can’t keep up with what my child reads. At this point she is willing to read sadder books than I am. Though mostly fiction.

    about the pedophile, I used to really enjoy Woody Allen movies, and now anything to do with him gives me the creeps. I tried to seperate the movie from the creepy guy, but I just kept thinking about what a creep he was.
    Post creepy news the last Woody Allen movie I saw was that ant movie with Woodie Allen’s voice as the main character and found myself nearly overcome with need to shout out a warning to the princess-ant but luckily I caught myself.

    And agree with you aside from personally being unable to separate I realized I just don’t want to support this guy.

    Same with what I hear in the news about Polanski, they seem to think because he is a great artist he can commit crimes and it’s OK.

    I think I’d be able to separate some crimes/problems but not all. for instance if I knew an author was using his/her earnings to say drink themselves to death I don’t think I would refuse to buy the book.

  9. Lisa

    July 16, 2010 at 2:59 pm

    This has never really come up with books and my kids–in so far as the author’s background is concerned. We have always dealt with subject matter as a great jumping off point for discussion but, like your discussion about Twlight, I’ve used the point that the child might like the book better when they are more attuned to the subject matter. But no way would I allow any money from my house to be used to support a pedophile–other issues might be a case where I would have to look at the full picture, but this is not a case where I would compromise.


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