Flights of Fancy | Parenting a Reader

As a parent, I frequently think about how I should monitor and censor my daughter’s media intake.  I ask myself, at nearly 14 years old, what should be allowed and what shouldn’t?

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Growing up my mother never really monitored the books that I was interested in.  Looking back, as an adult, I recognize where some might say I was reading situations and books that were far beyond my maturity level, if not my reading level.  I learned about sex from romance novels, and violence too if I’m being honest.  My mom never took a book out of my hands, but she sure did turn off the television if it was inappropriate.  I’ve never asked her why, so I can only assume that it was a mix of feeling like the visual images were more jarring than reading about it in a book -at least I think so- and how those scenes being on the television made it much harder to ignore what I was ingesting.  When it’s a book in my hands, she wasn’t aware of what those words were describing.  (Mostly, I mean she could see the covers of my bodice rippers, and she’d previously read Flowers in the Attic, so she did have some knowledge of the subject matter I was reading.)

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Anyway, I find that as my own daughter gets older I’m following the same footsteps my mother did, but for different reasons.  I’ve thought about telling my daughter a book was too mature for her, but then I remember growing up and reading whatever I wanted and how that was my space for learning and it was personal and private, and how I think I turned out pretty well with a good head on my shoulders.  I also believe she’s not going to be able to read something she isn’t ready for.  For instance, a few years ago my daughter tried to read a book with cursing and she ended up quitting because it made her uncomfortable.  Now, at 14, that doesn’t bother her.  I was lucky because she policed herself, I didn’t need to.

It wasn’t that she hadn’t reached that level of reading ability, because it was around the Readingctime she read Eragon which is far lengthier and wordier, it was simply because she was still uncomfortable by ‘bad words’ and bad deeds.  She’s far beyond that now, and reading anything from adult books to YA books, and I still don’t stop her.  She reads books off my own shelves which I know have scenes some would say she shouldn’t read, but I told both of us a long time ago that I would also (like my mother) never take a book out of her hands.  I also told her that sometimes I would want to talk to her about what happened in the story, use it to start a dialogue.

However, on the flipside (and also like my own mother) I have monitored and censored her television and movie watching.  She’s just starting to watch an occasional rated R movie, and even then I usually look up the parental guide on every movie to evaluate if it’s suitable.  I think it comes back to this idea that while reading we’re creating the images in our imagination, as gory or lack of gore as we need them.  When you’re watching a movie you can’t escape the images that the filmmakers and actors want you to see.  You can’t tone it down if your psyche needs.*  Readingd

My choices while raising my daughter does cause me to question how other readers out there have, or plan to, handle their children.  Are there other bookworms out there who are far stricter when it comes to what their children are reading?  Do you withhold reading material that your kid has expressed interest in?  How do we differ?  Inquiring minds want to know.

*I also believe that the unnecessary gratuitous violence in movies desensitizes us, but that’s a topic for another day.


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About Birdie

Don’t look for her in any bar, club, crazy raging party, or anywhere there may be a large gathering of strangers. She’s more likely to be found tucked into the corner of the couch watching one of her favorite shows, or preferably under a comforter with her current novel.

39 Responses

  1. The Spine Cracker

    I don’t have kids, but if I did I don’t think I would police their reading. My mum policed my books but in the opposite direction. She encouraged me to read adult level classics so my brain wouldn’t be melted by teen novels. Most of them were Victorian or Shakespeare so she never really worried about sex scenes.

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      1. The Spine Cracker

        I was in a special gifted class throughout most of my school life (there was only 9 kids in my class because of it) so my mum was frightened of me rotting my head. So I only read classics & non fiction with the exception of Harry Potter and Goosebumps. Maybe you just havent found the right classic novel.

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      2. The Spine Cracker

        Yes, for example you listed Flowers in the Attic as a book you read but I have seen that on lists of Modern American Classics

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      3. The Spine Cracker

        Ah the classics from the 19th century etc. I challenged myself 2 years ago to read all the classics I planned to get around to reading or rereading and it was worth it. I discovered so many new favourites

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t have kids, so I’m not sure what I would do, to be honest. I mean, I wouldn’t want my 13 year old reading Fifty Shades of Grey (for more reasons than one,) but like you and your daughter, my mother didn’t police what I read, so would I take it away? I just don’t know. I may just caution her against it. LOL

    My parents didn’t police what my brother and I watched growing up. Gosh, we used to watch Flashdance over and over again. I watch it now, and I’m almost embarrassed to have watched it at such a young age. I probably would monitor what my kid was watching, too. I already do with the kids I babysit.

    This post was great food for thought!

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  3. My mother did the same as yours, in terms of books and films. When we talked about it later, she said it was because a book was far easier to put down and walk away from than a film. Watching is a far more passive action while you have to be actively reading.

    When I was fourteen, I used to read all the Mills and Boon and my mum was aware of it. All she did was warn me that they weren’t at all realistic and waited until I lost interest in them. I think banning certain books makes them all that more interesting.

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      1. Also if kids go to read a banned book because it’s much more interesting and they run across issues in the book they want to talk about, then they can’t really talk about it with the person who banned the book either!

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  4. Kim @ Pages and Pekoe

    My kids are only 2 and 4 and are both boys so I may run into different scenarios but I have the same feelings as you and your mother. I also want to make sure that my boys know that I am always open to and welcome a dialogue for whatever they might be reading (or watching). If they do read or see something problematic, I want them to feel comfortable coming to me to talk about it. Great post!

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  5. Beware Of The Reader

    Hi Wendy as I’m the main book provider for my kids I know mainly what they read but sometimes a friend will lend them something. Julie had the same reaction Alex had: self censoring if she felt uncomfortable. What I monitored was TV and movie like you did because indeed you can’t turn the pages you don’t want to read.. We also blocked some “sites” we did not find appropriate for their age. They had to ask permission. So basically trust them with books but protect with the web and movies.

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  6. This is beautiful. I think it is so important to let kids read what they are comfortable with and never, as you said, take a book out of their hands. A grew up pretty similar to what you describe as well, though my movie/tv restrictions were not as policed either. As a professional that works with children, censoring their reading materials, to me personally, is never something I would practice. I might let a parent know what the content might contain if they are unaware, but other than that, I think that “taking those books” out of the hands of readers is depriving them of an opportunity to learn. Like you said, I also learned a lot about difficult subjects, through my experience with books. What I read was personal, and private and I cannot imagine anyone telling me that a book was not “appropriate” for me to be reading.

    Thank you for writing and sharing this personal experience with us :]

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  7. I love this post so much, you have no idea. As the mom of two girls, ages 3 and 5, who already have a love of books (likely thanks to my obsession, the same way my mom’s obsession with books trickled down to my sisters and I) , I greatly appreciate this discussion.

    I’ve struggled with this when I think about what I will “allow” my kids to read as they get older and interested in more “risky” books. After reading this and thinking more about it, I’m pretty positive I will be of the mindset to never take a book out of their hands and not censor what they read.

    I think when kids are pretty young, they wouldn’t even be interested in the bodice rippers, anyway. And once they do start getting interested in those types of things, censoring books isn’t going to stop them from finding out what they want to know. I can’t hover around them 100% of the time to make sure they aren’t asking their friends or finding other ways to learn about these topics. I mean, I’d much rather they learn about that stuff from a book than even their friends at school.

    I’ve even heard Sarah J Maas talk about why she included such an epic sex scene in ACOMAF (which is a young adult book) and she just shrugged it off and was like, “Everything I learned about sex as a young adult was from books.”

    I’m interested to hear from people who do censor their kids WHY they decide to, not to argue, but to hear the other side in case I’m missing something.

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  8. The difference between censoring reading material and watching material is so interesting, because books are where I learned about sex and violence and….everything, basically, but it never felt particularly harmful? But here’s just something about watching those kinds of things on a screen that affects me so much more, maybe because it feels more out of my control, kind of like you said. Books you can take at your own pace, but movies don’t slow down unless you physically pause them. And while people certainly can write graphically, I know I react to seeing something with my eyes and hearing it with my ears so much worse….I always wear a scarf to the movie theater in case I need to cover my eyes, lol. And I think reading is usually less policed because it appears more “intellectual” or mind stimulating than TV and movies, which is why I think my parents let me read literally anything- they just weren’t very aware. But I appreciated the freedom like you and your daughter and never read anything too out of my league. And your daughter sounds like a such a mature reader! It must be wonderful to see your daughter with a love of books.

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  9. I read the books my very advanced reading child reads – we have formed a mini book club in this respect – so I can keep an eye on what he’s reading, and also make sure the content is appropriate. I work as a Librarian so I have a good idea of what books he can read without me going no that’s going to have teen issues that you’re not ready for…..

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      1. His problem is wanting to read the books that are too old for him – his language skills are really advanced, so we navigate some interesting book choices finding ones that will extend him, but not propel him into growing up too fast.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. My daughter was an avid reader from a young age, and I never policed her reading — just like no one ever did for me. I agree with some of the comments here, at least as far as my own family’s experiences went. My daughter’s reading interests told me a lot about her interests, questions, maturity, etc. Yes, I was a little taken aback when she gave me a book she loved that had more bed-hopping than I was really comfortable with (when she was about 13) — but it became great fodder for conversation.

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      1. It was the Lionness Quartet by Tamora Pierce — great books with a strong female main character, but by the end of the four books (or perhaps even earlier), I was a bit taken aback by the sexual content. I should actually reread the series without my mom filter on and see what I think!

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  11. I think that’s a great attitude to have. I think it will encourage your child to come to you more and discuss any topics she’s read that she isn’t ready for and let her talk to you about it. Much better than her feeling she has to hide and get her knowledge from sources you maybe wouldn’t want her to

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  12. Like you, I have really good kids. I think if you lay the groundwork as a child as they are growing up, they will make wise choices. That being said, it doesn’t mean they always will however. But, I do know what kind of books my daughter reads and as I love YA (and write it myself) I’m pretty familiar with the genre and the authors. Keep up the good work and I love this post!

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  13. I think this is great, and definitely something I want for my son too. He’s only 2 so I’m a million miles away, but I also started building his book collection before he was even born so its something thats very important to me. Many of those things are things she will need to find out at some time, and finding out in a book is much better than either seeing the visual images on tv or even worse, experiencing them herself. Sounds like you’re doing a fabulous job.

    Not to mention the fact that your child WANTS to read something above her maturity level. Thats fantastic!

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