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?