Do you restrict what your kids can read?

by DaniGirl on March 23, 2014 · 18 comments

in Books,Mothering without a licence

Had you told me before I had kids that I’d be reading aloud each night to my kids beyond the age of ten, I’d have laughed. I mean, sure, we’re a bookish family, and reading is sacred – but I would not have imagined that they would still not only enjoy but actively request out-loud reading at the end of every day.

From the Hobbit to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing to Harry Potter, it’s been fun revisiting some of my favourite books with them. We’ve also checked a few off my own “must read” list, including A Wrinkle in Time and most recently, Anne of Green Gables. (I seriously never could have imagined that two 21st century preteen boys could be so engaged by a 100 year old book about a spunky girl as they have. Truly one of my finer parenting moments!)

They are just getting to an age where they are starting to have more sophisticated tastes in their individual reading. They’ve both read two of the three Hunger Games books, and are racing to finish Mocking Jay before the first movie comes out this fall. With the hype about the new Divergent movie and a recommendation from a camp counsellor, Simon now wants to read that. I waffled – he is only 10, and I don’t know how mature the themes in the book are, even though it is purportedly for a young adult audience. There is a lot of ground between 10 and 17!

At first, I was going to hold him off until I could read the series myself first. At the very least, I thought I would skim the interwebs to see if I could get an idea if there was anything questionable in the books. However, I was nine when I picked up my mom’s copy of Stephen King’s Firestarter and I’ve been reading adult novels just about ever since.

304:365 Antique books

After reflecting on it a bit, I decided that they’re now pretty much okay to read whatever they want. I couldn’t think of anything I wouldn’t want them to read, although I do still want to know what they’re reading so we can talk about it. I think I’d still be careful about what movies we watched together, but there’s something about books and the engagement of your imagination that makes me willing to give them a longer leash.

I tried to think of what would make me restrict a book, and I suppose the violence would be the biggest red flag for me, although they are a little naive for any overt sexuality. Truth be told, if they are smart enough to find that stuff and learn something, more power to them! As if we weren’t all reading everything from Tiger Eyes to Tropic of Capricorn looking for the racy bits back in high school.

What do you think? Are you concerned about what your pre-teen or teen is reading? Do you monitor their reading? Are there some themes that worry you more than others? Are there any books you would forbid outright? (And how long do you think it would be before they found a way to subvert you?)

I’m thinking I may at last soon be able to do something I’ve been waiting years to do: read one of my all-time favourite books out loud to the boys. Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, here we come!

(Thanks to Kerry and her family for inspiring this blog post with a random Facebook conversation!)


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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 cinnamon gurl March 23, 2014 at 6:25 pm

I’m tempted to say I would restrict VC Andrews, because I read them all when I was 11 and it kind of messed me up. But I suspect the better alternative is to focus on conversations and creating opportunities for my kids to talk about what they’re reading and develop their critical thinking skills. As for just regular old sexuality between consenting adults, that doesn’t concern me as much. My friends and I all read Jilly Cooper and Shirley Conran and others with no ill effects (I think).

2 Lynn March 23, 2014 at 7:55 pm

We ran into this a couple of years ago, when “everyone” in my son’s grade 3 class had read The Hunger Games, and we weren’t so sure about it. Last year we gave in and let him read The Hunger Games, as well as the scarier later Harry Potter books (the final four), and it went well, although our daughter who is now in grade 4 could never handle that kind of stuff. I guess to some extent it depends on the kid.

I think by the time I was in Grade 5 I was full-on into the adult section (Agatha Christie was my gateway drug). I remember my mom suggested a book to me when I was in grade 8 – some kind of thriller – that had a masturbation scene on page 1. I returned it to her and said I didn’t like it at all. So I’d say, if they are avid readers, they are going to know what they like, and things that make them uncomfortable or are over their heads will just be rejected. Sounds like they are doing just fine!

Our 11 year old just got a copy of Hitchhiker’s Guide for his birthday. So far he isn’t that into it – I think it’s maybe not his kind of humour? Would love to hear how your boys like it.

3 kev March 23, 2014 at 7:57 pm

What CG said. Nothing is restricted, and we encourage conversation about the subject matter. The dinner table is essentially “anything is fair game to ask about”, and this includes movies, books, gossip, and HBO… among lots of other things. While it can sometimes leave granddad speechless when he’s visiting (and I won’t lie, when that happens I smile a little), it means that we’re pretty open with anything. I don’t want to censor, and if there’s content I think is a little rich we’ll talk about it and why I am concerned, but the decision is theirs, and it really does help with critical thinking about the content and what they want out of it. When I was eight or nine I discovered Nancy Friday’s “My Secret Garden” in the piles of books, and I wish we had had something similar at dinnertime… it would have (hopefully) saved me from some reasonably messed up conceptions of how things worked, especially when my parents gave me “Where did I come from?” a couple years later. :)

4 Chantal March 23, 2014 at 8:15 pm

I diligently read the hunger games series before my son did just to be sure. But then I gifted him Divergent without a 2nd look. Probably should have. He didn’t really like Divergent and I am not sure why. I must read it as he now wants to see the movie. I love the my son enjoys reading. I wish I had fostered the real out loud habit you did. Both my older two prefer to read alone at night (and I am not complaining). I am not my best version of mom at bed time. Maybe if we fostered a routine that included reading instead of coaxing to bed I would be a happier bed time mom :)

5 Sarah McCormack March 24, 2014 at 6:42 am

Some of my favorite moments have been times reading aloud with my boys! Reading the entire Harry Potter series to both boys (individually) was seriously one of the greatest joys of my life! thanks JK ROWLING!!!!

We also read Anne last year before our trip to PEI and that was mouthful but so great! we also watched the movie, which I highly recommend doing!

We have one rule in our house- book before movie! other than that, it is not so much that I am restricting certain books… but waiting for them. So, my son who is 9 is not quite ready for the Hunger Games. but I look forward to him reading it in the next year or two. I just feel like if they read all this stuff too young, what is next? same thing with movies. if you are watching Star Wars when you are 3, what is next? Terminator? lol!

Encouraging a love of reading is important in my home but I will still monitor what they are reading, at least for a few more years. there is enough Percy Jackson, R.Dahl, and Narnia stories that the more mature subject matter can wait a while!

love this post :)

6 Windex March 24, 2014 at 6:59 am

I think I am in line with what and why Sarah M. does.
I sensor what she is reading at a certain age – I have yet to come across a book she will not be allowed to read in this house at some point….Why do I do it? not sure if it because I know what my daughter can handle or if I just don’t feel there is anything wrong with being young and naive for some subjects:-). If she approaches me (gr. 5) with something she wants to read that my initial reaction is no – i always give her the benefit of reading it myself and sometimes my opinion changes and sometime not.
A site we do use all the time to get a gauge for a book we have never heard of is http://www.commonsensemedia.org

7 Sasha March 24, 2014 at 7:49 am

I try really REALLY hard not to control my girls’ reading choices. So far that’s just meant trying not to laugh when The Boy’s Potty Training Book comes home from the library (for the record: both girls are fully trained), and trying to temper the sexism and judginess of the Mr. Men & Little Miss books (but wow, some of them are just *awful*). We did, quietly, put away our home copies of Beatrix Potter and The Butter Battle Book, but when it’s the girls themselves that are picking, so far, I’ve been able to just let them pick.

The fact that this is already an issue makes me worry a bit about what they’ll want to read when they’re 10 though. But will I try to stop them from reading anything? I don’t know. I like to think not. But then, I never thought I’d feed them a 3-meal rotation of quesadillas, pizza, and chicken-fingers either. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this parenting gig, it’s that my “principles” are a work-in-progress.

8 DaniGirl March 24, 2014 at 10:58 am

I love these comments! So fun to have an online cohort that’s followed us through first foods and potty training to first day of school to pre-teen angst. We’ll be sharing wedding planning and grandchildren tips one day, with any luck! I also love that I’ve seen at least two other conversations on Facebook because of this post – yay! *waves to Sasha* And ha, yes, it’s almost alarming how much a work in progress my “principles” are!

Funny Cinnamon, I know I read Flowers in the Attic when I was very young, but I have no clear memory of it, let alone of finding it disturbing. Now I almost want to go back and revisit it!

Lynn, maybe get him the BBC radio play of Hitchhikers for his iPod? We too have Sarah’s “book before movie” credo, but maybe hearing the play would pique his interest? It’s simply too good NOT to have him love it!

Thanks for the link Windex – I use a similar one for movies and figured there was probably a similar book one out there.

Kev, I would love to write a whole other blog post about our dinner table conversations! Nothing is off limits and more than a few have left me either blushing or shaking my head or both. Often my favourite time of the day!

9 Peady March 24, 2014 at 11:57 am

I LOVE this post!

I have 2 Things. Thing 1 is a voracious reader. He loves reading more than (pretty much) anything else. I find that offering old favourites of mine (The Great Brain series, Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary) has come in handy through the years, when he’s needed something more to read, but wasn’t quite ready for “The Hunger Games”(Still isn’t!) or “Harry Potter”(Just finishing the 2nd last book.). I agree, there are SO many books to read, we’re never at a loss. I think he’d really like the Hitchhiker’s series and that is why *ours* are in his room on the bookshelf. I’ve taken a bit of a “I’ll just leave this here…” approach and it works for us.

I agree with the book before the movie standard, too. This helps so much when the subject matter is a bit harsh or you worry it might be too much. For instance, Thing 1 read the jr. novelizations of Star Wars before we watched the movies (only 3.. and starting with what is now #4, otherwise known as “Star Wars”.)

10 Anonymous March 24, 2014 at 1:06 pm

Such a great topic, and I am always interested in hearing how other parents handle this. My son, who is 12, read The Hunger Games this year and is just now finishing the Divergent series. I persuaded him to wait until sixth grade for The Hunger Games, although I suspect that he would have been okay with the content last year as well. My daughter is 10, but she is so sensitive and susceptible to nightmares that we both agreed The Hunger Games would still be waiting for her, if she’s interested, when she’s older. So, I play it book by book, child by child, and hope for the best. (I also keep in mind that I was reading the VC Andrews canon and Sybil in seventh grade, and I appear to have turned out to be a reasonably well adjusted person!)

11 DaniGirl March 24, 2014 at 1:13 pm

Ha! Sybil – that was another one I read as a young teen. I sense another fun blog post on a ‘what did I read when I was less than 20 and what long-term effects did it have” theme!!

12 Suzanne March 24, 2014 at 1:19 pm

That was me, above, who read Sybil. Not sure why I became Anonymous!

13 Janet March 24, 2014 at 3:21 pm

I’m just happy that my son loves to read. I let him read whatever he wants. The more the better, I say!

14 liz March 24, 2014 at 4:51 pm

No. But I do tell him that there are books in my room that contain sex and violence, and sometimes violent sex (hello Laurell K. Hamilton!), and he should ask what’s in the books before taking them to read, so he can make an informed decision.

Mostly he’s been “Sex? EW GROSS”.

15 liz March 24, 2014 at 4:58 pm

Oh! Data: He’s 12. Loved Hitchiker’s Guide. Loved the first Hornblower (meh on the rest, stopping after Hotspur). Loved HP. Loved Artemis Fowl. Loved Percy Jackson. Loved Peter and the Star Catchers. Loved most of EL Konigsburg, all of Elizabeth Enright, Great Brain…Didn’t like Little House.

Hasn’t read Hunger Games yet. Started Redwall today.

16 Natalie March 24, 2014 at 7:17 pm

My three younger kids are just starting to read so I generally keep on top of what they come across as reading material. I have a 12-yr old stepdaughter and a 10 yr-old step son who are voracious readers. I’m generally distracted by academic stuff so I have a hard time keeping up with all of their reading but between their dad, their mom and I we’re at least aware of what’s in their hands at any given time. We generally veto for sex and violence. On the topic of Divergent, I took my 12yr old stepdaughter (and four friends) on the weekend to see the movie. I found the movie pretty violent for 12 yr olds (whose moms all had Ok’d the outing), and even for my own taste as a grown woman. Thinking back at the movies I watched growing up, I remember none of them being that violent. While I was generally aware of the content of the book, and enjoyed the premise and storyline, I was still surprised (and disappointed) at the fighting scenes, knives and guns. I find it alarming that gratuitous violence is so easily accepted as ‘entertainment’ (and even glamourized), especially when presented to young minds.

17 Mary @ Parenthood March 24, 2014 at 8:03 pm

I do discourage various books at the library, although I have not actually forbid anything (and daughter is five, so…)

There are so many books out there that it seems to me that it makes sense to choose “good” stuff (although I love Agatha Christie and other fluff so perhaps “good” is a term that can be used loosely!) But so far I find my five year old’s book choosing criteria leaves something to be desired – so I have no worries choosing for her. (And I explain why if I’d rather not pick a particular book)

Now, my niece is nearly eight and reading at a level far beyond her peers. She’s read through all of Harry Potter several times – and I doubt that I would let my daughter do the same. I feel my niece is really a bit too young (and NO WAY would I let her read the hunger games at her age). Yes she is capable of reading the words and yes probably the parts I think she’s too young for go right over her head but there are so many really great age appropriate books that I’d much rather my kid spent her time on those.

But we’ll see what actually happens when we get there!

18 Lori March 25, 2014 at 9:24 pm

Love this topic.
While divergent is no more violent then the hunger games it takes the main characters intimate relationships to a new place, just as a heads up.
I have always tried to pre-read the books before my kids do (ages 7 & 13) not to screen or censor, but just to be aware of what they will be encountering.
A new thing I am doing with my older one now is letting her read the book first and having her add any thoughts, questions and notes on the book as she reads, then I read it next. This gives me great insight as to what twigs her as she reads the book, and it also is a good way to build on her reading comprehension as she reads. As an added bonus it gives her a memorable scrap book literally in her favorite books from her childhood.

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