Thursday, March 25, 2010

Parental Censorship

I just started reading the Harry Potter books. When they first came out DH and I didn't have children and then, when we did, they were too young to be interested in Harry Potter.

The Rationalist has been asking to read them for quite some time, but they are just out of his assigned reading level for his accelerated reader program at school. Mainly, I was trying to make him wait until he was a bit older. From what I have heard, the last few books are a lot darker and have more general peril in them. I knew once he started the series that he would fly through the books in a matter of months, if not weeks, so I was hoping to let him loose on the entire enterprise once I thought he could handle all of them.

I am somewhat ambivalent about exerting a measured amount of censorship over what our children read. When I was a child, I was an advanced reader. By third grade, I was reading my mother's pulp fiction paperbacks, most of which were wildly inappropriate for me due to the sexual and violent content. By fifth grade, I was a huge Stephen King fan.

The scarier, the more horrifying, the better.

So....I understand the urge for fantasy and horror at a young age.

On the other hand, I was exposed to many subjects at a young age that I wouldn't want my own children to be exposed to. Walking the line between implementing parental guidance and allowing breathing space for the kids is a balancing act.

The Intuitive is ready to attack all of the R.L. Stine , Goosebumps books. I'm making him wait until 3rd grade only because I made The Rationalist wait that long. I had been turned off of the Goosebumps series when The Rationalist came home with one in first grade. The story involved a young girl become possessed by a scary mask and almost strangling her best friend to death.

Too much for a 6 year old to process.

By third grade The Rationalist landed in a classroom stocked with every Goosebumps book ever written. He'd read them all by Christmas break.

Now, I only casually keep track of what he's reading. There have been only a few instances when he has come home with a book that has been vetoed by us, usually because it has more realistic violence in it than we think he's old enough to handle. It is surprising sometimes what subjects pop up in the young juvenile section of the library.

One of the books he picked out in second grade dealt heavily with domestic abuse and had scenes depicting a woman being hit by her husband...way too heavy of a subject for an 8 year old to deal with. Usurping his choice, we made him stop reading it and find something else to meet his reading requirements.

It's becoming more complicated to figure out what is appropriate now that both of the boys are becoming more sophisticated.

The illusion of parental control I possess will probably completely evaporate over the next few years.


DH said...

This has definitely proven to be a challenging issue with the Rationalist who is able to read at a level much higher than may be appropriate for his age and who genuinely loves to read. While I do want to ensure he isn't reading inappropriate material, I definitely don't want to discourage his love of books.

I remember when he started the AR program at school years ago and how the level restrictions (i.e., the teacher mandating what level of books he could or could not read) were a nuisance to him, as he always wanted to read longer and more challenging books. Those first several years he kept advancing quickly to higher and higher levels. Now, in fourth grade, he's seemingly stalled at a 5th grade reading level. Whether this was merited, due to a lack of teacher involvement, or divine providence, I don't know. I do know, however, that part of me is happy about it, as I really don't know if I want my fourth grader reading six grade level books.

Right now I'm just glad that he's at a point where he can genuinely get "meaty" books that satisfy his desire for real substance without, hopefully, getting into too mature of content. I'm also glad that he's at an age where he's genuinely delighted if we take enough interest to read the books he's reading and are able to discuss them with him.

As for the Harry Potter book series specifically, though I haven't read the books myself and have only seen about 1 1/2 of the movies, my feeling is that the uproar over them may be a bit exaggerated. I am glad you're reading them, however, and I'm sure I'll be entertained with many dinner-time discussions between he and you about Harry and his many adventures.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I will ask my wife, an elementary school librarian, to comment.

CS Lewis commented in Surprised By Joy that a great deal of his education was the freedom to read whatever he pleased in a house full of books. This was not by design, but inattention by adults, and he noted that much of what he read was inappropriate for his age.

Our boys read about what they wished, I think. We might have forbidden horror if they had wanted it, but it wasn't of interest.

I read the first of the HP's and liked it moderately. Tracy and our second son were quite fanatic about the series from the day it came out. Ben's others that he was fanatic about were the Redwall series, which is aimed a bit younger, Watership Down, and the Gordon Korman books (very funny).

James Pate said...

My mom had a policy of letting us read what we wanted---though she made an exception on the Wizards and Warriors books I read in first grade.