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?
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.)
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 time 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.*
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.