When my daughter graduated to the Young Adult section of the library I was proud and excited. I didn’t give a thought to what she was reading because I naively assumed that if it was labeled Young Adult then it was age appropriate. Granted, she hadn’t hit 13 yet, so I knew some of the books might be too adult, but nonetheless I figured that if she wanted to read them, and could understand them, then it was all good. And if she couldn’t understand them, it didn’t matter anyway.
Then one day she told me she’d read a great book and I should read it too, so I did. That was the end of my blissful ignorance. In that particular book, Deadline, (which, by the way, I thought was extremely well-written and recommend highly) there was, in no particular order; a boy with a terminal illness; a girl with a little brother who turned out to be her son, the result of being raped by her uncle; an alcoholic ex-priest who’d molested children, and more. That was when I learned that nothing is taboo in YA literature.
That experience made me question, briefly, my decision not to censor her reading material, however, my daughter was (and is) a voracious reader; it’s not unusual for her to take ten books out of the library at a time. It would have been a full time job to stay on top of YA books to the extent that I could approve or reject her choices. Laziness aside (which believe me, is a major contributor to my resistance) censoring anything is a slippery slope. My daughter knows better than I do what she’s capable of understanding and if it was too graphic, or too scary, she self-censored.
The movie rating system, designed to protect parents from making stupid mistakes with their children’s viewing choices, continually disappoints me. The choices that the MPAA makes are not consistent with the choices that I would make for my child. I’d much rather she hear a few F-bombs than be exposed to people being blown up, yet the former nets an R rating and the latter a PG-13.
We were away for a weekend with another family and we rented I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry for the kids to watch, because my daughter insisted it was age-appropriate. The kids in question ranged from 9- to 13-years-old. The sophomoric humor was immediately off-putting for me but the kids were enjoying it. Each time something questionable was said or done the parents would sneak looks at each other to see who was going to be the first to crack and shut it off. Consensus came during a shower scene where several buff naked men, shot from the back, prepared to play ‘pick up the soap.’ Our collective parental gasp made it clear that no amount of arguing was going to get the movie turned back on. That movie was PG-13.
The next weekend, we watched Up In the Air. It had one brief scene of a naked woman, shot from the back, and verbal innuendo about the sex post-facto. Oh yeah, there were F-bombs. That movie was rated R. Guess which one I’d prefer my daughter watch?
I continue to censor movies in my own, lazy fashion. I know from experience that the visual nature of movies makes a deeper impression on my daughter than reading, so if it’s too ‘adult’ or scary we don’t watch it. But then, if it was too ‘adult’ or scary she wouldn’t want to see it.
When it comes to books, however, self-censoring is a highly effective parenting tool, and the only one I need.