This morning I was at a Barnes and Noble here in Houston, where I'm staying while I wait for the increasingly late moving truck to arrive at my new apartment in Austin. I was looking at a display table in the YA section, when I overheard a young girl, who was around thirteen years old, talking with her mother. They were at the next table, discussing a book the girl wanted. It was a hardcover book and the mother flat out told her daughter that she wouldn't buy her a book that she would only read once in hardcover, which I totally understand. My mom had the same rule when I was growing up and now I pretty much have the same rule for myself. Foreseeing the girl's disappointment in not getting a book she wanted, a feeling I myself know well, (and unable to miss the chance to talk books) I decided to suggest a book that I really like and that I had noticed was sitting next to the book the girl wanted.
"Have you read Divergent?" I asked. The girl shook her head and the mom jumped in.
"Do you think it's a book she would like?" she asked. I found this to be an odd question. How the hell would I know? I mean, I guess I must have had some idea about the girls' interests, but it didn't range far beyond YA and the contents of that table.
"Have you read The Hunger Games?" I asked the girl.
"Oh, she loved it!" her mom said. Inwardly shaking my head, I told her that yes, I thought her daughter would like Divergent. "But is there inappropriate content? I don't let her read books with inappropriate content."
Not having any idea what the words "inappropriate content" meant for this women, I said, "Well, there's some violence...."
"Oh, I don't care about violence," she said. "But is there drugs or sex? I've had to take some of these books away from her, because of all the drugs and sex."
"No," I said. "No drugs or sex. There's some kissing, but that's about it."
"Oh, that's okay," she said while her daughter picked up the book, without a question of her own (the sign of a voracious reader - one who will pick up a book at the slightest recommendation).
I'm not sure where to start with this whole exchange. My husband was with me and the first thing he said as the girl and her mother disappeared behind a bookshelf was, "So she just takes her daughter's books away instead of using them as an opportunity to talk about those things?" My first reaction was to the fact that the mother had no problem with violence (a societal issue) but was adamantly opposed to drugs and sex (individual problems). It's like people who fight for the right to own semi-automatic weapons but oppose homosexuality. Somehow the risk of death and injury to large numbers of people is more acceptable than people doing something in their private lives that doesn't actually affect anybody else. (I'm not even going to talk about all the helicopter parenting that was going on. Okay, yes I am - let your kid speak for herself, lady!)
This leads to the whole question of what should be considered "appropriate" content, for teens as well as kids and even adults. Framed in the right conversation, is there even any real inappropriate content? Are the topics that, at certain ages, we just can't handle no matter what the context or portrayal? And does it really do a kid any good to just ban her from certain things for fear of inappropriate content? I agree with my husband - while I might not want my own future child to read certain books (Twilight comes to mind), I'd rather use it as a springboard for a conversation than just ban it outright. Banning things tends to just make them more attractive anyway. I'd bet that girl has probably finished every one of those books that her mother has taken away - I know that I would have found a way to if my mom had ever taken away any of my books.
What do you think? Do you think that some books should be kept from kids for their own good or can the right conversation make them acceptable? And if you do think some books should be restricted, how do you choose? What constitutes inappropriate content?