We are a household of readers. I have been a book junkie for as long as I can remember, that Husband o’ mine is a huge newspaper addict and the resident teenagers read just about anything and everything that crosses their paths.
Speaking of teenagers, when it comes to my teens and their choices of reading material, my philosophy is don’t forbid, discuss. I do believe children need guidance amongst the book shelves, but I do not believe in “this book is for ages 5 and up” labels. Granted, some subject matter obviously bears consideration of the child reader’s psychological makeup, maturity and temperament.
Honestly, when my children were young enough for this to be an issue, they were also young enough to be happy in the ‘children’s section’ of the library or bookstore. And in that realm, I never had a problem with children’s books about beliefs that differed from ours, because I was right there to guide my budding readers, right there to say things like “That’s interesting. Now what we believe/do/say is . . . .” or to explain why we don’t believe/do/say whatever-the-case-may-be.
Like everything else in parenting, I believe there is no substitute for not just my presence, but my active involvement–from birth into teendom and beyond. The level of my active involvement changes and grows as my children change and grow.
While I have truly never said “no” to a book one of my kiddos wanted to read, around ages 9-12 I did find the need from time to time to say something along the lines of “I’m not sure you need this level of relationship talk/sex talk/violence spelled out just yet.” Neither of my now-teens protested the few times that happened. You know why? No, they’re not “yes babies” and no; they’re not suppressed, either. When steering them from a particular book, I would be very specific, for example, “This book is really graphic in violence/sexual nature/the like that I just don’t think you need in your head right now.”
You other parents out there know how pre-teens and young teens are about sexual topics. While mine may have been curious, the usual response I got was “ew, no,” if I so much as gave any remotely sex-related detail. I didn’t set an age for when I stopped doing that, it just happened naturally. Any and all subject matter is approachable in our world, and I am convinced that makes all the difference. I have never said “We just don’t do that/read that/believe that” without talking about details, then welcoming and encouraging questions and discussion.
There have been many talks around our home: relationship talks, sex talks, drug talks, dating talks, how people work talks, lots of questions and discussions along those lines of growing up. Some were started by me; many more were initiated by my teens. Here is the key to my ability to say I don’t forbid, I discuss: I work to know my teenagers. I know their beliefs and opinions, and I trust that they have developed a filter of discernment that will only strengthen as they grow.
Today, the aforementioned teenagers are young adults at 19 and 17 and it is not my choice to determine what they read. I do suggest books, nudge them to read this or that one I’ve found and think they might enjoy, and I absolutely make a point to notice what books they check out or buy. Sometimes I read those books, too–not to supervise, but out of curiosity and enjoyment.
This shared love of reading is one of the best gifts my kids could ever give me.
**This article is an updated re-post of a guest post I wrote elsewhere**
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