Should You Censor What Your Tween is Reading?

By Rebecca Vitkus

It’s a miracle! Your child has traded in his video games for an old-fashioned book, filled with pages of words that will transport him into a world of endless adventures. It’s often stressed that reading to your child is important for his development, and it is exciting to witness his desire to read on his own. However, this transition can be a bit complicated as he gains a new sense of freedom. Do you know exactly what your child is reading? As busy moms and dads struggle to keep up with their own hectic schedules, throwing in the task of reading an extra novel each week is easier said than done. Books written for children often contain mature themes, and it’s up to you as a parent to determine how to introduce your child to controversial issues.

Many schools and libraries have censored books and removed them from their inventories due to provocative themes and parental complaints. Some of the most commonly banned books for children and young adults may surprise you. The long list of books that have been put on censored lists includes the Harry Potter series, Dr. Seuss’ “The Lorax,” multiple Shel Silverstein poetry books and “James and the Giant Peach.” Even “Where’s Waldo?” has met its fair share of critics advocating for its removal from bookshelves.

The stories above are just a few examples of stories that introduce kids to the world of reading, sparking their imaginations and often creating a lifelong love of books. So what is a parent to do when the issue of censored lists arises? Should you censor each one of your child’s books, and if so, at what age should you allow your child to choose for himself? “There’s a lot of research in educational studies that show the benefit of anything that challenges children intellectually and socially,” said Dr. Kenneth Kidd, associate director of UF’s Center for the Study of Children’s Literature and Culture, as well as professor and chair of English.

“There’s a lively debate about age-appropriateness, of course, and I don’t think anyone would recommend just any book to just any kid. It’s all about context, including age, reading level, personal and cultural situation, and so forth,” Kidd added.

As a parent, you have the responsibility of raising your child to become the best person he can be. You long to shield him from the less-than-perfect aspects of humanity and fill his impressionable mind with only the best images and ideas. You want to ensure that he understands the difference between right and wrong.

On the other hand, these “tweenage” years are instrumental in gradually introducing your child to the world around him, even when his questions are difficult and conversation is uncomfortable. Books can act as a safe space in which you can present these topics to your child, enabling him to learn about life’s tough lessons through stories rather than through his own experience.

“Very few people want to censor, but most parents want to make good choices for and with their children,” Kidd said. “That’s why a lot of the work of librarians (and teachers) is about identifying good books for kids, and promoting those books, rather than slamming or condemning ostensibly bad books. But of course, none of this is simple or easy, since no one’s quite sure what a good book might be. It might be many things, after all.”


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