The Censoring Conundrum: Should An Author-Mom Control What Her Ten-Year-Old Reads?
Freedom of Speech versus protecting young minds. That’s the picture of the censorship issue in modern American culture.
My daughter, code name Bam, claims the title “ravenous reader” just like her mother, sweeping through several novels each week, despite being active in local theater productions, school functions, and farm family chores. She huddles under the covers for a quick dive into imaginary worlds before bed. She takes pages with her on our thirty-minute commute. She brings one during her sister’s gymnastics class, tucks into a corner, head down, mind alive. Yesterday, she walked into a wall with her nose in one.
As a deeply spiritual and nosy mom, it’s important that I know what she’s reading and what she’s exposed to. As a thoughtful and creative author, letting Bam be free with her reading to experience the world in all its bright and ugly glory is also vital. It’s a slice of the bigger pie concerning censorship for young readers.
The Classics In All Their Incorrectness
While most school curriculum requires some classics to be read for credit; many other historically significant works remain. Many of them contain curse words, racial and sexual slurs, promiscuity and rape, and more. The darker side of humanity is often not examined fully in modern works, but classical writers had no problem laying it all out on the table and saying, “this is a problem!” Their raw honesty spurred conversation and change. Not every classical work slaps readers with such specifics, but many contain little elements that spark worry in modern moms. It could be an era relevant practice that’s since changed or even illustrations that worry those questioning what their students read. Check out these various age category examples from invaluable.com:
- Goodnight Moon–Cigarette on the Original Cover
- Very Hungry Caterpillar–“Big Fat” insinuates negative connotations
- In the Night Kitchen–Nudity, an illustration of a naked baby swimming in milk
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland–Drugs, Hookah, and mind-altering mushrooms
- The Bridge to Terabithia–Occult content and cursing
- Diary of Anne Frank–“Pornographic” content
- The Hobbit / The Lord of the Rings–Features characters smoking
- The Golden Compass–Satanism/ anti-religious
- The Hunger Games–Anti-family messages, religious, violence
- Slaughterhouse-Five–Offensive language, violence, sexual content
- Harry Potter Series–Witchcraft/sorcery
- Lord of the Flies–negativity, demoralizes men to mere animals
On the other foot stands the concern over young readers taking in such disturbing, if real, content. Studies abound on how these types of works negatively affect vulnerable minds. In a study done at Stetson University, Psychologist Christopher Ferguson books with ” ‘edgy’ violent, sexual, or occult content… were associated with increased internalizing and externalizing mental health symptoms.” In layman’s terms, it’s not proven, but it’s a reasonable consideration.
The Freedom To Read
America hinges on its freedoms: Freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and yes, freedom to read what they want under the First Amendment. The American Library Association presents an eloquent quote from Lamont vs. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301 (1965):
“The protection of the Bill of Rights goes beyond the specific guarantees to protect from Congressional abridgment those equally fundamental personal rights necessary to make the express guarantees fully meaningful. I think the right to receive publications is such a fundamental right. The dissemination of ideas can accomplish nothing if otherwise willing addressees are not free to receive and consider them. It would be a barren marketplace of ideas that had only sellers and no buyers.”
As a writer, sharing views and information make up the core of my morals. Of all the concerns in our society, the people’s right to share ideas and make their own judgments tops the pyramid. Just as my daughter has the right to choose her religion (though I hope she agrees with mine) and the right to get a tattoo when she’s an adult (it’s her body), she has the right to explore ideas and come to conclusions. As a mother, it’s hard to swallow my own words, but it’s the best decision for my vibrant, smart, beautiful girl.
Discuss What You Read
With our rights comes responsibility. Giving my daughter the freedom to read anything she wants also means as a parent, I need to be a part of the conversation that follows. Massaging out themes and answering questions from the information she’s gathering will allow me to help her process what she’s experiencing. It’s no different than traveling to a new place or meeting new people, or like commenting on the pop culture splashed across screens in terms of modesty or language.
“Use inappropriate or offensive content to spur conversation with your kids… [they] provide opportunities for discussion and learning,” stated Anita N. Voelker, Ph.D. (USAtoday.com).
Without discussion, it will overwhelm our children. Freedom of information means contradicting ideas. Comparing them also helps our children develop their moral standards and make future decisions on a career, religion, and their next book choice.
Let’s Be Honest, Who Has The Time For Both To-Read Lists?
About a month ago, Bam brought me a book someone gave her entitled PLAIN KATE by Erin Bow and asked if she could read it. I reviewed it first due to one line in the blurb that concerned me. The gorgeous prose bubbled up author envy. Halfway through it, some blood magic made me writhe equally in awe and disgust, yet I adored the whimsical determination of the main character. Bam will enjoy this wonderful writing, and I said as much in my full review of PLAIN KATE.
Some moms claim to read everything their children to “approve” the books. The daunting thought of reading both my daughter’s latest page-turner and my eternal to-read pile shakes my soul. It’s unrealistic. It’s demanding. However, I can lead her to books that will interest her or read some with her at bedtime until she’s too old to consider it cool. I can show my favorite books and previous reads to my daughter, staying connected to her as she matures, makes friends, carves out a new role in our family dynamics and eventually breaks free to live her own adult life.
I want to nurture a link with Bam until she’s an adult. My relationship with my daughter and being a part of everything she’s doing, including reading, means I’m being the best mom possible. Isn’t reading and learning about our world really pointing us toward this kind of fulfilled life in the first place?