Censorship and Teen Lit

Well, nothing like the touchy subject of censorship when you have the moniker of Katy Konservativ…

I think that the overarching reason that young adult materials (and children’s materials, for that matter) are challenged frequently is because parents are frightened of their children growing up too fast.  Being a teen is an awkward time when maturity is extremely relative.  Parents are also not sure how to react: you are pretty sure how to handle a child, you think you might have an idea about how to handle an adult, but how to handle something in between, particularly when your offspring approaches things in an extremely different way than you did?  Parents are overwhelmingly frightened of their children growing into teenagers — popular culture, parenting books, and peers convey the message that teens are horrible creatures that will hate their parents, be extremely hormonal, always into sex, and impossible to understand.  Parents have to admit that they can’t protect their children and that those cute little munchkins are going to become adults.

Hence, the intense desire to maintain some sort of control over them.  If they have to release their little one into the wild, they want that wild to be as safe as possible.  Most of the desire for censorship is well-intentioned.  This is important to remember.  I think it is especially good that future librarians are being taught to be sensitive to those who challenge books.

Overall, I think young adults are usually able to discern what material they are ready to read and what they are not.  Most teens absorb the values of their families, even if they don’t express them outright.  What is key is communication between parents and their teens, which is difficult.

Also, I think there are guidelines that parents need to understand when it comes to censoring their children’s reading materials (and that subsequently, librarians should understand as well, from the opposite perspective):

1. If there is concern over whether or not a child is ready for a certain book, or if said book runs against a parent’s values, the parent should read the material and discuss it with their child, even if the child is a rebellious teen.  [The teen may still read it, but at least they will understand where their parents are coming from.]

2. If there is concern that younger children in the household might get a hold of disturbing material, recommend that the older child keep the material at school, or read it at the library only.

3. Librarians are not parents.  (Well, they might be parents themselves, but that was not the gist of the statement.)  Their primary job is to promote literacy and love of reading.

On the other hand, librarians have to know when to back off in certain situations as well, particularly in small libraries.  If you know your patrons, recommending certain books to certain people is just not a good idea.

There is also the compromise of cataloguing certain materials as adult instead of teen, or as teen instead of children’s.  People tend not to have as much concern over adult materials in particular — it is assumed that adults should have free choices.  Teens can always go to the adult section.  Teens looking to getting books that their parents/teachers would not approve of will do whatever it takes to do so.

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