I’ll Parent My Children & You’ll Parent Yours—Not Vice Versa

banned books

It’s Banned Books Week, the time of year when: (1) I think about how lucky I am to live in a society with a Constitution that protects the right to share and to receive information, including in the form of books, and (2) I marvel at the audacity some people have to challenge this right by demanding that public libraries and schools remove “controversial” books from the shelves.

Lately, on this blog, we’ve been discussing a related topic, which Jancee Wright of Jancee’s Reading Journal put so well in her comment to my post, How Young Is Too Young To Read Gone With the Wind?:

“As a librarian, I’m inherently against censorship, and in favor of information being readily available, especially because some kids need to read harder material that reflects their lives. It’s an interesting juxtaposition – where’s the line with one’s own children?”

In that post, I discussed that “line” in my household. No books are prohibited—that’s a rule just asking to be broken—but there are some I’d prefer my children wait until they’re older to read. One of those books is Margaret Mitchell’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Gone With the Wind, which contains mature content, racist themes and language, and a mythological version of the Old South. It’s not a “children’s book” per se, but that hasn’t stopped a large number of people from reading it—or having it read to them—at young ages.

My reluctance to introduce GWTW to my own children is quite different from demanding that other people’s children not read it. I would never want a library to stop carrying it just because my child might check it out.

Nor do I think it’s the end of the world if my child does end up reading a book before I believe they’re ready. Most likely, they won’t understand it, and it’s just a waste of time that would’ve been better spent reading Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quintet instead of GWTW’s thousand-plus pages of Civil War and Reconstruction drama. At worst, they will pick up the racist language of Mitchell’s proud Confederate characters — a disturbing situation I’d rather avoid — but I can deal with it the same way I’ve dealt with the occasional curse word that exits their mouths.

Nor is it a problem if a child of mine reads a book that contains ideas with which I disagree (like GWTW’s portrayal of slavery and the Old South). In fact, I fully expect that will happen as part of growing up. My hope is that I’ve created an environment where my children will feel comfortable coming to me with questions about what they’re reading.

A child’s exposure to new ideas isn’t something to fear, but for some reason, far too many parents fear it. They fear it enough to not only prohibit certain books from ever entering their homes but also to demand the removal of those books from schools and libraries.

As I wrote in one of my favorite posts on this blog, Please Stop Parenting My Children:

All I can say to folks like that is this: exposure to many different ideas doesn’t brainwash people. It’s the exposure to only one idea or belief system that does. If the mere exposure to new ideas is enough for those old beliefs to crumble, then its proponents should stop to consider why their beliefs aren’t more persuasive. In my opinion, an idea that can’t withstand a fair debate isn’t an idea worth passing onto the next generation.

I look forward to discussing controversial topics with my children.* It will give me an opportunity to explain my perspective to them, and I may learn a thing or two (or more) from them in return.

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*We do already have discussions about challenging topics (every family will have a different definition of what is “controversial”), but these conversations have been basic ones so far.

16 thoughts on “I’ll Parent My Children & You’ll Parent Yours—Not Vice Versa

  1. I’ve not yet read GWTW, nor do I have any children. If I ever do, I hope to share the same ways of not restricting what they read — as long as they’re old enough — as I was fortunate enough to have the same growing up, and from this I’ve learned a lot. If the book has dark or offensive themes, etc, I wouldn’t have a problem; I think the only time I would is if they condoned/supported those aspects, such as racism or sexism. But like you, it would be interesting and welcomed to discuss the controversial topics, as it can be a good educator and shines light on different perceptions. Great post, very enlightening.

  2. Lusekelo Munene

    Great post really. As a parent to hear you say that exposure to many ideas is a great thing is really a wise thing to say. As a child I do believe that if my parents dictated my reading list, it wouldn’t do much good for my obedience or discipline.

  3. Jaclyn

    Wonderful post as always. I read GWTW at a very young age – nine – and definitely didn’t understand what I was reading. Now I do think that I was too young for the book (I remember liking it, mainly, I think, because it was an OMG!grownup book) and I’d rather my kids be a bit older before picking it up, as well. I’m starting to consider where our household lines will be. My parents were completely permissive when it came to reading material (oddly, I think now, because in all other respects they were incredibly strict) and it resulted in me reading more than one book before I was ready. (I’m still not ready for The Thorn-Birds.) I’d like to create the same sort of atmosphere where no book is forbidden to my kids, but be more approachable so they feel comfortable coming to me with questions, instead of flipping out privately as I usually did. That’s my goal, anyhow…

    1. Thanks, Jaclyn! My parents were also very strict with everything but books. That’s probably because my father was in charge of our reading material and my mother was in charge of everything else!

      By the way, I finished The Custom of the Country. My post will be up in the morning! Thank you for organizing this read-along. I’m glad I got to read another Wharton.

      1. Jaclyn

        How funny – in my parents’ house it was the opposite! My mother was in charge of reading material (she was a teacher) and my father was in charge of everything else! My father is not a reader – in my whole life I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen him with a book – so I don’t think it occurred to him to control my brother’s and my bookshelves.

  4. Excellent idea presented well. My home is well furnished with all kinds of books and journals with frequent visits of my sisters with my nephews. Though I respect to ESRB rating and control their digital media penetration in terms of Gaming, I never thought necessary to do the same for my library. They won’t pick up something which is out of their understanding and if they do then will come up with questions to understand the same. I have observed that whatever is available they are more attracted towards children’s cheerful books and as they grow up, will move on to something else satisfying their grown-up needs. We should only play guiding hand rather than controlling one. Lovely article……………….

    1. It’s interesting that you brought up gaming and the ESRB ratings. That’s something I’ve thought about too, in terms of when to introduce children to certain games. Of course I would never introduce a child to something like Grand Theft Auto or Saints Row. But something like Skyrim? Sure. I think it all depends on the child and how willing the parent is to have hard conversations with their children about mature themes or controversial topics.

  5. Well said. If every parent was as fair-minded and rational as you, the world would be a better place. Unfortunately, there are people in this country who insist on foisting their beliefs on the lives of others, even at the cost of stripping them of their rights. Every time I read about an outrage over a book some school library carries, and the subsequent campaign to get it removed (which often succeeds!), I see red.

    1. Thank you! What a nice thing to say.
      It’s hard to believe that people still challenge books today, but they do. I suspect we only hear about a small fraction of the battles.

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