Friday, May 25, 2012

The Content of YA Books and Maturity

There’s been some talk about the content of teen books lately. About the violence, sex, cursing and other content that some find unsuitable for their children. Some kids aren’t old enough to read these books. Some are. Twelve is a very transitional age. Some kids are more mature than others. And some of these books are probably really written for the older teens.   

When I was twelve, I read a wide range of things. My mom bought me the classics in paperback, and my grandma had a selection of leather-bound books like THE COMPLETE WORKS OF SHAKESPEARE. I read everything from Hans Christian Anderson to Jack London to Jules Verne. I read more. DRACULA, many novels by Stephen King, Anne Rice, and Dean Koontz. My mother’s historical romance novels. (I learned the answers to Jeopardy! questions from some of those historical romance novels.)   

The topics in these books weren’t new to me. Violence was in the news; death was on my bus route when a guy on a motorcycle got hit by a van. For that matter, death was in my second grade reading book. (Thank you, educational reading text for the story of the little dog entombed in lava while fetching bread for his boy. That story will haunt me always.) I knew violence, death, sex, and cursing. The antidrug programs in elementary school probably taught me more about drugs than anything on TV.

And I grew up to be drug-free, nonviolent, and fairly well-adjusted.

Teens are out in the world. They know what sex is. They curse. They see violence on the news every day. Some see it in their lives. Television, movies, other people: they’re going to learn about these things one way or another.  YA books are probably not going to be their first introduction to these topics.  

You know your teen best. You know what their maturity level is, and you can determine what they’re exposed to. If you’re concerned about what might be in a book your kid might read, there’s a simple solution:

Read the book first. Read it, consider the context of any content you might be concerned about, and then determine if your child is mature enough to read it. If not, there are some fine middle grade books out there. If so, then you and your child can discuss it. Then it becomes family time, too! Win-win, right?

1 comment:

  1. Great post! Back in those days, I didn't have access to YA books. So I read whatever my mom was reading (uh, Harlequin romance, anyone? Those books have lots of sex in them. Totally inappropriate for a 12-13 year old. Just sayin'.) It wasn't until I was in high school that I got exposed to the classics (hooray for high school libraries), and even those have themes that can be considered violent or inappropriate for someone so young. Still, I grew up to be sane and a well-rounded individual. Never smoked, never did drugs, and was always an A student.

    As a mom, I take my kids to the library every week and let them choose books they want to read. Granted they're still fairly young (my oldest is 8) so I don't have to worry about mature books for now. But when they do get to that age, I'll make sure I read the books first--not necessarily to censor them (nobody censored my teen reading days) but just so that I can have a discussion with them if the need arises.