Saturday, September 28, 2013

Censoring Books at Home?

The concept of censorship is at the forefront of discussion given that it's Banned Book Week. I read a great blog post about censorship in the home and it made me think.

Would you censor the books your (real or prospective) children read at home?

In some sense, I would say that censoring your child's book is a good thing. As opposed to throwing a big fit and trying to get a book banned at a library or school and thus preventing other people from choosing what they read, you are making choices for your family alone. Parents raise their children as they see best. Some people don't want their children exposed to certain things before a certain age (or ever). As long as they're not imposing their viewpoint upon me, I don't have a problem with that.

What would I do?

That's obviously hard to say, because I don't have kids. But I think I would be very reluctant to censor my children's reading choices.

1. Different Books for Different Foolks (Hey That Rhymes! With Creative Spelling) For younger kids, I would be most likely to want to censor books that I think are stupid. Perhaps like Captain Underpants - although I've never read these; I'm judging them based on the title. I hate bathroom humor.

I think censoring books just because you don't like them and not because they're "offensive" is a particularly bad idea. You never know what will hook a kid into reading. Besides, a book or series that you don't like will be a relatively brief passion for the child. If you're lucky, it will get them to read other books that you do appreciate. Putting up with dumb stuff your kids like seems like a right of passage as a parent. I remember how much my parents despised Pee Wee Herman's Playhouse, but I loyally watched that show for several years. Then my interest waned and now I can't even remember what it was about other than being ridiculous.

2. Kids Process What They're Ready For

Many parents are lucky enough to have precocious readers who want to read above their grade level. This leads to concern that children may be reading content, be it swear words, violence, or sex, that they're too young to be exposed to. At least from my experience, things that are "too old" for kids go right over their heads. I read Judy Blume's risque books like Forever, Tiger Eyes, and Deenie when I was 9 years old. Deenie in particular is a book that I loved since it was about a girl with scoliosis, a condition I also had. I read it at least 10 times. I re-read it about three years ago and was shocked at the sexual content in the book. Shocked specifically because in all the times I read Deenie, I had never once comprehended or cared about it. (By the way, if you were a fan of Deenie as a kid, don't re-read it. It didn't stand up to the test of time).

3. Forbidden Books Entice

Do you want to ensure that your children read a book? Then forbid it. I think it's human instinct to respond to a command of "Don't touch" by reading out to tap the forbidden object. When I was 10, my mother told me that I was not allowed to read Sweet Valley High books. She explained that they were too old for me plus if I read them now, I wouldn't be able to enjoy them when I was a few years ago. As you might expect, after that, stampeding horses couldn't keep me away from reading them. I checked them out from the school library and hid them in my classroom desk. I distinctly remember panicking when my parents visited my classroom for Open School Night in fear that they might discover my stash. I don't think they did.

I think censoring books at home is a very personal decision. I can understand parents wanting to shape their kids' viewpoint and values. Limiting what your kids read at least doesn't limit what other kids get to read. For myself, I think I will keep my future children's reading choices unlimited, although I will surely encourage books that I'd like them to read. What I think it most important is being aware of what your kids read and discussing it with them.

What about you?


  1. My mother never stopped me from reading any book, but my dad censored EVERYTHING. All that did was make me want to read it more.

    When I have kids I think I'll probably only censor out erotica or very preachy Christian fiction, until they're old enough to deal with it. Of course, I plan to always be there to talk about anything they read and may have questions about.

  2. I agree with you, everyone can decide for themselves if they want to censor what their kids are reading, but like you I wouldn't censor my kids' books (If I ever have any).

    As a child I was never told what I can or cannot read. Looking back, it seems strange to me because the person who encouraged my reading the most was my grandmother who was deeply religious, and she usually asked about what I was reading and talked to me about it, sometimes she even took the book I was reading and read some parts, but even when I was afraid she wouldn't approve of it, she never said I couldn't read it or anything. I'll definitely take after her example.

  3. I think trying to keep a book (or anything) away makes it more interesting in the first place. If a kid get its hands on it when you told them specifically it was not allowed they will notice the things you do not want them to notice.
    I do feel that you can explain that some books might not be age appropriate but they will probably have a hard time reading those and not enjoy them because they will not connect to a story.
    Plus I do agree with what you say about how one experiences a book. Though children are known for a vivid imagination there is so much that connects in the brain.

  4. I think it is important to censor your child's experiences with books if you think it's necessary rather censoring every child's experiences. I don't have kids but if I did, I would hate another parent forcing their attitudes, values and beliefs onto my child.

    Personally, I wouldn't censor my kid's reading but if I didn't like the book's plot, characterisation, themes etc I would definitely sit down and explain my position at the beginning and want to discuss it as they read and after. Obviously that would get a bit easier as the kid got older. Kids' capacity to block out stuff is phenomenal and often the stuff that is above them age wise just isn't that interesting to them.

  5. My mom never censored my reading (she was a teacher and also the school librarian, so that would have not been in character). However she did read everything I read after I read it. Once I finished a book I had to turn it over to her to read. I don' t remember it ever hindering my choices in what I read, but I suppose it could have done that if I wanted to read something too inappropriate. I'm quite sure she probably talked to me about some of the books after I finish them, but I don't remember anything particularly shocking or emotional.

    I think that was probably a good way to handle it, at least for me. Like you point out, if you told me not to read something, I would have found a way to read it for sure.

  6. This is a great post. I'm a librarian, and I think most librarians are very "censorship is awful." But censorship in the home is certainly different from banning books in libraries.

    Growing up my parents pretty much let me read anything I wanted, and looking back, it was definitely the right decision for me.

    As for my future children, I think I'll probably go the same route as my parents did. I agree with you, the msot difficult thing for me to not censor for my future kids will be those book I find stupid. As a librarian, I have a great knowledge of children's books, and I know what I LOVE. But I will try to let the kids read whatever books they want (even if they are those disney character books, which I never like).

    There was this young girl who used to come into the library all the time and ask for book recommendations. She was a great reader, and she loved fantasy. But her mother didn't want her to read HP (because of witchcraft) and it made me so sad. Because I know that this girl would have loved HP, and I for the most part really liked her parents. I had to respect her mother's decision, but even now when I think about it, it makes me sad. But that was the mother's right. She wasn't saying the book was bad, or that she didn't want others to read the book, or that it shouldn't be in the library, she just didn't want her daughter to read it. That said, if her daughter ever came in and checked it out, I couldn't say no. Because it's also the daughter's right to check out whatever she wants.

  7. I grew up with the possibility to read everything I wanted. I was quite young in the eyes of the library when my mother took me to the Adult section, because I had read most of the children books. I always got the freedom to try and find books I wanted to read, so I want to give that freedom to my children when they grow up. I don't want them to feel restricted to read only books I give them. They should find their own preference :)


  8. I think it is a very personal thing. I'm like you, I don't think I'd censor what my kids read. I'd just have an open dialogue with them about it. I think discussing rather than forbidding is the way to go. But, I don't think many people agree in the culture I'm surrounded by. But, I guess to each their own. And, I'd rather than them censor it at home than force the censorship on others.

  9. Alison, I agree with you. My mom and dad never censored what I read and now when she thinks about me reading Pet Cemetery at the age of 14, she cringes, or Cujo for that matter. I soon moved past the horror error though and found things like boys and romance, but I'm not scarred for life, at least not due to books.

    I've found with my girls, one 18 and one 12, they each have VERY different tastes in reading. At age 12, my oldest was reading most of Ellen Hopkins stuff and she could handle it. We discussed the books in detail and it made good bonding time between the two of us. She eventually left Ms. Hopkins behind and started reading a lot of PNR and other stuff I read, but as long as she was reading, I didn't care.

    My youngest at age 12 prefers tragedies like The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I'm not lying when I say that when picking out a book, she will literally look for the saddest book ever written. I tend to avoid all things sad, though I have read The Fault in Our Stars and highly encourage everyone to read it. Again, my youngest and I keep an open line of communication, though she's not as vocal as my oldest, so I have to depend a lot on her actions which isn't always easy, though she did have a lot to say about Mr. Green's book which was good.

    So, while my children aren't censored, I just try to keep the communication doors open. I also agree that there are a lot of things that children do not process until they are ready, if you want the perfect example, which happens not to be a book, but a good example all the same, watch any of the Shrek movies sometime. Actually, there are several animated movies you could watch and you'd be shocked at the adult humor, yet we never squawk about taking our kids to see those movies.

  10. I have a massive library at home that my kids are very much welcome to. I may sound like a hypocrite now but there is a book in my shelves that I definitely wouldn't want my daughter to read. The girl in the book would let the boy she claims to love cut her because he's got a medical condition that requires him to drink her blood. He's not a vampire; he's human.

    My daughter is starting to develop a taste for YA and books like I previously mentioned is just not something I'd encourage her to read. She can definitely decide for herself when she's older but right now, I refuse to give her access to that.

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  12. For me, parents censoring their children's reading is much, much different than the government doing so. It's a parent's right and duty to be cautious about what their kids are exposed to and when. To that end, I think it very much depends on the individual child. My parents never censored what I read, but I feel like they probably should have a little bit :) So, I'm much more cautious than they were. I trust my kids, though. My daughter has, several times, stopped reading a book because it made her uncomfortable or she just felt like it was too "old" for her. So, yeah. Interesting discussion!

  13. As a general rule, no I would not censor what my kid reads, provided that it is with in reason. I do however have a big issue with with 15 year old girls reading books like 50 Shades of Grey.

  14. My parents censor my books, even now, as a teenager. I have never read Harry Potter. Any book with magic, vampire, werewolves, etc is off-limits. I secretly read my favorite books, The Mortal Instruments, and after finishing all 5, I got caught. :/ So, as a victim of censorship, I can say I wholeheartedly despise it. I understand some censorship, like not age-appropriate books,but with books like the ones that I've had censored, it's just stupid. You can't stop someone from reading a book just because of how you believe it is even though you haven't read it.

  15. This is hard to answer because I don't have kids either. But I agree with all your answers to the questions so I think I would do the same as you. It's important to be careful about censorship in case it backfires or it limits their love of reading - and it's also good to keep in mind that indeed a lot of that content goes over the heads of young ones anyways.

  16. I don't want this to sounds bad, but where I live, there are not many banned books. Mostly cause where I live there are LTOS of people who are illiterate. I live by Mexico. Like, I'm literally 5 mins away from the border. And lots of kids coms across for education as well as there parents. Many do not have any education at 6th grade. You be surprised how many times I get stop during shopping at Walmart of HEB cause someone can not read the label on a product or don't know how much an item cost. There are tons of literacy programs because of the lack of education. So no problem banning books where I live. My library promotes anything and everything to get kids to succeed in their education as well as encourage the parents to finish school.

  17. I think kids also tend to censor themselves. I certainly did when I was a teen. In high school I remember a few of my friends reading romance novels and I absolutely had no interest in reading explicit sex scenes so I didn't or I would skip over them. It wasn't until I came across a series that caught my interest because of the plot that I finally gave a romance novel a try and I was already in college and 17. If a child is not comfortable reading something they probably won't read it.

    I don't have kids but I have a little brother and he reads below his grade level right now because he has little interest in books that don't have lots of pictures which I am ok with as long as he is reading but this also means there isn't much for me to censor. The only time I start limiting what he can read is when it comes to my manga collection. I will let him read anything graded for teens or lower. Mature content he most definitely can't have until he is older and older teen is usually judged by the book or series, meaning I check what content it holds and decide if I think he is old enough to handle it. He doesn't seem to mind that as he still has lots of material to read that is suitable for him.

    The only problem I would have with censorship is if you decide your child would NEVER read a book. Children don't live in bubbles, they are exposed to violence and sex on TV, movies, and video games. If its not at your house it's at their friend's house. They are exposed to cursing, smoking, drugs and alcohol (often at school) so preventing them from reading books because they contain these certain topics makes no sense to me.

    I just think its always good to be involved with what your kid is doing and reading and discuss things with them.

  18. I don't have kids myself, but I do have a 10 year old niece who stays over from time to time. She has her own room and has brought some of her books over to keep here.
    While I do not think I would censor what she reads specifically, I will tell her what is age appropriate. I have a whole bunch of books for the 9 - 12 age bracket she can read. I have even more teen books and when she's ready, I will allow her to read what she wants. At 10, though, she doesn't need to get all boy crazy and stuff, so for now, she is not allowed to read the older aged bracket books, depending on the content. I would prefer her to enjoy being a kid rather than trying to grow up too fast.

    Tammy @ Bo's Book Nook

  19. I think it is important to have various aspects of thought in the home. It is not good to shelter kids. I have even taken my boys overseas to Asia to see exactly what we say is a third world country. I have banned books in my home and encourage them to read everything and anything.

    Mad Scientist @ Steampunkery & Book Reviews

    1. I agree that it isn't good to shelter kids from the world. The world out there is what it is and sheltering them from it will only shock them once they're out there on their own. I think it's important they know the reality.

  20. The only books my mom didn't want me to read were her Harlequin romance novels, and of course I sneaked them into my room anyway, lol. But she encouraged me and my sister to read everything and anything. Every time we went to the store, the three of us would come home with new books. I was heavily into Christopher Pike growing up, and it's funny you mention SVH - I devoured those books. I also loved The Babysitter's Club and The Saddle Club, lol.

    My dad was never a big reader, but several years ago I bought him a biography of Elvis for his birthday - he's a huge fan. I just found out a couple months ago that he actually read it. It was a pretty thick book, and I was surprised and happy. He's way more into listening to records. :D

    There really isn't anything I keep my daughter and son from reading. My daughter is ten and in fifth grade, and she has been tested for her reading level. Her teacher told me they only test up to a junior high level and that my daughter reads above that level. I'm really proud of her. I always read to her from the time she was a baby and the same for my son who's going to four in about a month and half.

    My daughter has read Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. She started reading Cinder but never finished it. She said she liked it, so I'm not sure why she didn't finish it. She also read the Lunarmorte series by Samantha Young, which I haven't read yet. She said there was kissing and wrinkled her nose, lol! She devoured those three books in a week!

    I wouldn't let her read erotica or anything, and as long as there isn't explicit sex in a book, I'll let her read it. Sex is natural, and we talk about the changes she'll be going through and things like that that are appropriate to talk about at her age level, much to her chagrin. But my husband and I are against censorship, so if a book is "controversial" I'd rather her read it and we could talk about it afterward.

    1. Sorry, I'm really rambling here, but I also wanted to add that we don't censor our kids from being gay. I've talked to them about all the different people in the world with all kinds of different beliefs, and if there was homosexuality in a book, as long as the sex wasn't explicit, I'd let either one of them read it. :)

  21. I would like to think that I would not censor books in my home, but you never know. Books kind of have the same effect as television, I would argue, so maybe some are more appropriate for children of a certain age than others. I'm all for reading - my mom took me and my siblings on trips to the library every weekend - so I think I'd give them the chance to make the right reading choices appropriate to their age.

  22. This is a great topic, Alison! I feel like we all talk so much about banning books in more public forums, but the topic of banning them in your own home doesn't get discussed as much.

    Since I don't have children yet, of course my fictional future children all love the same books I love/d and so this is a moot point :P

    But, barring that, I don't think I'd ban any books. You make great points about it being a passing phase anyway (for the most part) and how kids will get out of them what they're ready to understand. And, of course, how often do banned things actually stay banned as opposed to indulge in secret?

    I can't think of many books I wouldn't want my child to read anyway. I'd rather discuss the book than outright ban it.

  23. Interesting discussion. If I ever have children I wouldn't want to read books with adult themes when they're too young. I remember reading a book I wasn't allowed and I had nightmares for weeks.

  24. I don't think I want to censor my future kids, but do think I want them to wait before reading certain books. Like a previous poster said, I don't my my high school-er reading 50 Shades. But I do remember being in high school, and my dad saying he could read a book I was reading. Of course I finally read it in college, and didn't nearly live up to they hype I'd given it.


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