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.