The problem with censoring what teens read

Banned books.

Photo by Flickr user Kennedy Library

As a public librarian, I often have parents asking me to recommend books for their middle- and high-school-aged kids. I love connecting kids with books, but these interactions sometimes frustrate me when I’m given restrictions on what’s “appropriate” for the reader — particularly when the reader is there and wants to check out “inappropriate” books. Sometimes it’s a matter of language — parents don’t want their kids reading curse words; sometimes the issue is content — no sex/drugs/violence/etc. I always do my best to ensure those readers leave with something both they and their guardian(s) will like, but it breaks my heart a little to see an enthusiastic reader censored like that.

Now, I’m not a parent, and maybe I’ll feel differently if/when I have kids, but I think we should let our kids read what they want to read. Unless a kid never leaves the house, never watches TV, never goes online, and never talks to other people, they’re going to be exposed to all the things I’ve seen parents forbid in their kids’ books. Do I wish the world had less crime, less violence, less hate? Absolutely. But it doesn’t. And refusing to let kids talk or read about certain topics just ensures they’ll try to research them on their own, either by asking friends or going online — and we all know how reliable the Internet can be.

I’m not saying let your seven-year-old read erotica. But let teens read about the things they’ll be exposed to in school, with their friends, online, etc. If you’re worried a book is too mature, suggest that you read the book together and discuss it afterward. Preventing a kid from reading about sex isn’t going to prevent them from hearing about it somewhere, and I think it’s much better to have conversations about healthy relationships and consent than to let teens navigate that world themselves. Books are a great way for teens to explore and develop their own understanding of things without having to experience them firsthand, and are an opening to start those tough but important conversations.

How do you feel about censoring teens’ reading?

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