Censorship? WTF! How Much Should We Shelter Children from Reality?

One of the most fascinating topics of discussion I have with people once they find out I’m a writer – second only to “Hey, I’ve got a great idea for a story! (Can you help me write it?)” –  is that of censorship. This is especially popular with the YA crowd. I love a good probing discussion, and while I do understand that some people think certain topics are unsuitable for children, I must say that I am firmly against censorship in any form. Period.

This stance of mine makes for a lively debate. Sometimes the challenge of my view comes from other writers – which I must say is so odd. I would assume that all writers would be completely open-minded and fully against censorship in all forms, but that is just not the case.  Maybe they would take these words literally:

 “Obviously, the danger is not in the actual act of reading itself, but rather, the possibility that the texts children read will incite questions, introduce novel ideas, and provoke critical inquiry.” Persis M. Karim (The New Assault on Libraries)

I’ve had some enlightening discussions to say the least – some within my own local writing chapter. Here’s a fictionalized version of how one of these conversations might go:

My Fellow Writer: Do you think children/teenagers should be allowed to read books with so much violence, especially a book about children killing each other?

Me: Absolutely. Whether that book is Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games or some other book.

MFW: But don’t you think the violence is gratuitous?

Me: No. I actually think it’s toned down compared to reality. Haven’t you heard of the Invisible Children? This kind of thing is actually going on today, but on a much more brutal scale.

(Side note: This isn’t all happening in Uganda either, despite the wonderful media coverage Kony has received. According to Amnesty International’s website, “worldwide, hundreds of thousands of children are recruited…” And according to another website, this one for the SOS Children’s Villages, “Since 1998 there have been armed conflicts involving child soldiers in at least 36 countries.” )

MFW: Okay, but what about books with frank discussions of sex and characters making bad choices? Would you let your daughter read them?

Me: Definitely. I think books like Twenty Boy Summer and Beauty Queens (or whatever Ellen Hopkins book we’re talking about) encourage interesting conversations with her.

MFW: You talk to her about sex? ACK!

ME: Of course! Don’t you talk to your child about sex? If not, where does she go with her questions? The internet? Her friends? I’d much rather she felt comfortable coming to me and getting accurate information than risk her going elsewhere and believing that she could get pregnant from a toilet seat or something stupid like that. Or worse…having her end up pregnant. Period.

Let me expand on this a bit more.

Reading about violence isn’t going to traumatize your child unless it’s a badly written book – then who wouldn’t be traumatized by it? It’s also not going to turn your child into a sociopath. Millions of kids read The Hunger Games. I have yet to see a spike in youth violence directly correlated to it. The killing in that book wasn’t relished over by the characters, it wasn’t seen as a badge of honor or something to be proud of. In fact, the death of one of the most innocent, endearing characters was felt deeply by many communities within the book – and I’m sure most readers had a hard time getting through that particular scene without tearing up.

What better way to teach kids the horrors of war?

Would you rather your child actually live through one or experience those same emotions vicariously through a fantastic story that really moves them? Isn’t THAT the way it should be?

And on the sex front, trying to keep a teenager from making bad choices when they are all hopped up on hairspray and hormones? You gotta be kidding. The only people who even think that is possible have effectively blocked out all memories of what it was like to BE a teenager. Every parent with a teenager should be doling out sex ed information like it was candy. According to the latest research, (surprise, surprise) abstinence-only education does not work. In fact, the states where that is still being taught as the main form of birth-control have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Hmm, I guess information IS power.

We can’t protect our kids from every bad thing that could ever happen, keep them ignorant of reality forever, or hope that they never discover that they are indeed sexual beings. It is not only doing them a grave disservice, it will keep them from developing vital coping skills they will need to become healthy adults.

So when I am asked if I allow my daughter to read questionable books, I say hell yes! I want her to explore her world and ask me all the hard questions she wants. I try my best to answer them. I don’t shelter her from anything. She can handle it.

So where do you stand on the censorship issue? Are there books/topics you think are too much for kids to handle? Do you think some forms of censorship are okay?


And with that controversial post…I’m off on vacation for a week! I’ll get back to your comments as soon as I can and I look forward to all of them.

26 thoughts on “Censorship? WTF! How Much Should We Shelter Children from Reality?

  1. Check out the original Grimms Fairy Tales. We don’t call bad things “grimm” for nothing. Good point about midigating the impact of what our granddaughter reads (or watches on tv) by parent interaction. Parenting, it’s what’s for breakfast.

    1. No kidding. Talk about the ultimate scare tactics. Don’t talk to strangers or you’ll get eaten by a wolf or thrown into an oven to be, well, eaten. Some kind of weird oral fixation happening there. And any compliments on my parenting techniques I’m pretty sure I learned from you.

  2. I seem to recall boredom being the most effective means of censorship when I was younger. If I was too young, and couldn’t understand, I got bored, or distracted and put it aside (in fact I still do). If it did interest me but I couldn’t understand everything, I’d talk to Ma or Pa about it – often at dinner time, that always seemed to be a good time to talk about controversial things!


    1. You bring up an excellent point. I recall zoning out of many adult conversations that bored the hell out of me and even though I had unfettered access to my dad’s library, many books I would hastily return to the bookcase as duller than shit. Caligula I just couldn’t make heads or tails of. So great that your folks encouraged discussions at dinner time. Thanks for being part of this discussion!

  3. I think the writer has to make the decision about how they want to present their material. I am the librarian at a Christian school, and I at least glance through every book I put in there. I recently rejected a Spider-Man book for language, and I’ve rejected others for sex scenes I considered too graphic. Having said that, we have lots of books for the teens by Dekker, Peretti, Liparalu, and Bishop that are extremely intense, have many moments of violence and death, and deal with real issues of physical and emotional relationships, plus consequences of all these things. I appreciate authors who are able and willing to tell stories without relying on the most grotesque and vulgar elements. HAVING SAID THAT, I’m not going to get down on any author about how or what they write. We are free to write what we wish and we are free to read or reject anything we aren’t comfortable with. I loved Hunger Games and have put it in the library. My daughter actually pushed against me doing that, which surprised me as she is 15, but I see nothing wrong with the disturbing images in the story – that WAS part of the point. When I write, I’m going to write how I see fit – so should any writer. There will always be audience for nearly anything out there.

    1. excellent points. thanks for sharing your thoughts.and while i do agree that each writer should write as they they see fit, i must admit i was very distracted by what spiderman could possibly have said to have put him on the censored list.

      1. LOL. It wasn’t a comic book, or even a large graphic novel, but a regular, 600-page novel that had l bought at a sale. Spidey was just slinging webs, it was his nefarious opponents that were slinging expletives a bit more than I would normally green-light into our library. I brought it home and my son can read it when he wants to…

    2. I hear your viewpoint since I was also a librarian at a Christian school for a time and was also considering books. Discernment, discretion, consideration aren’t forms of censorship–they are often aspects of awareness of patron needs.

  4. I don’t agree with censorship, but I do agree (on the subject of children and young adults) with the parents’ right to oversee what they think might be best for their children. If a parent is even partially in-tune with their child, then they should have an inkling of what could potentially seriously disturb their children, if anything. But on the author side I believe we should be allowed to write and portray life in the way we feel we need to. Some people will go down a darker, more vivid road than others, but that’s okay. That’s life.

  5. I was going to write a regular comment, but I’m prepping a full-on response to this for tomorrow instead! But first thing’s first: Very smart and stimulating article! I’ll be sure to drop a link your way when my post goes live!

  6. Here is a thought: is it professional discretion or censorship if I choose to not have certain books for the student population I work with?

    1. good question. i think it would depend on what criteria you used to limit the availability of said books. is it your own uncomfortableness with a subject, a topic you don’t feel your students are mature enough to handle because it is way beyond their limited experience – i.e., elementary level kids with YA topic – or something you think the parents of your students might object to? i do think that professionals working with other people’s children have a different set of issues to consider.

  7. I love your quote about how the “danger” was that the work will “incite questions, introduce novel ideas, and provoke critical inquiry”. This is EXACTLY what I hope for when a young adult reads my book. If it doesn’t make them THINK, then it’s not DOING ITS JOB.

  8. I agree with one of the above comments that said that as a writer, she would write as she sees fit. I agree. As a parent, I think I have the right of censorship (to a certain extent) which I have no problem doing.

    At this point, I have very young kids, and I think I would probably prohibit books that I think are not age appropriate. Yes, there are tough subjects out there and I would like to think that I am open minded enough to let my children read them, assuming they have reached the appropriate age.

    1. exactly. we don’t need to deny everyone access to certain books because they make some people uncomfortable. parent involvement is so key. so is deciding whether or not your own children are ready for certain material.

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