There are always limits we place on children’s reading. Sometimes those limits can be pretty arbitrary. Children of course, aren’t necessarily interested in why we make those limits. They just want to read what they want to read,
One reason we place limits is that it makes us uncomfortable. At least, it makes a lot of us uncomfortable. Mostly we want to protect our children from the evil of the world, not give them the opportunities to unsettle or terrify themselves.
Fear is a strange creature. I can hear gleeful stories about undead robot zombies daily from my seven year old, but faced with a bumblebee he freezes. The line is very thin sometimes. Larry the pet werewolf has joined my son’s odd cast of imaginary friends. Sometimes Larry is a friendly puppy. Sometimes he’s a protector. And sometimes he’s scary, mostly to my five year old, who gets freaked out by the howling in the dark at bedtime. We appear to be stuck with Larry, a creature who embodies all the contradictions to the ways my son deals with fear. Kids’ reactions to what they read and what they see can be so different from ours, and what we find disturbing may be a key clicking open a lock on a door to a room they need to visit. Alternatively, it could really frighten them. But life is less rich if we avoid everything that might evoke emotions that can be difficult to deal with.
As a parent I see these contradictions and the accompanying discomfort differently than I do as a librarian. As a librarian I might try to guide a child to something that seems more age appropriate or warn them that the book she’s chosen has intense content, and that it’s okay to put it down, but I don’t think I would completely refuse to give a child a book. I have to trust that parents are aware of and supportive of their child’s reading. As a parent I have absolutely told my kids that there are some books, movies, television, that they are not ready for yet. The Monster Kid is angling to watch Night of the Living Dead, and that is not going to happen.
It’s important to include kids in the discussions of why you think they aren’t ready to read or watch something. They can learn from you, and you can learn from them. The knowledge can make us better at understanding the other person and respecting boundaries. And to express all this better than I really can, I’m going to share a link to a blog entry by Mini Lee, who I think has some interesting things to say about all of this from the kid’s point of view. As uncomfortable as some of the books and media kids are interested in may make you, the essential thing is that there has to be enough trust and respect there to be able to hold a conversation about it.