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Dec 22nd
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Written by Crystal Brewe -- BT Contributor   
May 2013

Monitoring what your child reads is tricky, but it is every parent’s responsibility

I bigstock-Girl-Lying-Down-Reading-2807586have a secret. I read all of the Fifty Shades of Grey books. That’s right, I am a walking cliché. What’s worse is, I bought them in bulk, with a bomber bottle of Chardonnay, while wearing sweatpants… at Costco.

Was it great literature? Absolutely not.

But guess what? I can guarantee what happened in those books was much more titillating (in my head) than any “Inspired by the Best-Selling Series” movie that may later get made.

Remember the thrill, as a fourth grader, of reading the “dirty” parts of Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret? Remember graduating to the Sweet Valley High series and hiding those books from your parents because the teenage twin heroines had a weak spot for make-out sessions with handsome boys?

I was a voracious reader as a child. I read so much, in fact, that my mother made me discuss it with our family therapist, like it was an addiction. I was not dissuaded by her lack of enthusiasm. If she didn’t take me to the library, I raided her bookshelf, reading most of the Jackie Collins novels, Helter Skelter, Zodiac, and several self-help books by age 13.

Seeing your kid’s nose in a book is obviously a good thing. But reading the book your kid’s nose is in first is probably a good idea.

On a recent visit to our amazing pediatrician’s office, she handed me a book. “Open this book and read any paragraph on any page,” she urged.

I did, and then I blushed. I can’t even indulge you with a strategically censored passage from said book, fair reader, because it’s impossible to come up with one. To me, every page I turned to was too dirty!

She had confiscated the book from a 14-year-old patient who checked it out of the public library. The girl’s parents did not speak English; hence, they didn’t know the content was inappropriate for a young adult.

After the good doctor paid the girl’s “lost book fee” -- in an effort to take the book out of circulation -- and made several calls to City of Miami commissioners Michelle Spence-Jones and Marc Sarnoff, she took it upon herself to visit the library and ask why they would let a young girl check out such a book. Why do they even have a book that includes such material?

While a book like the one in question may never end up on the library bookshelf next to classics like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn or The Catcher in the Rye, many argue that the messages and culture contained in books like this are still important.

It turns out this book is from an author many consider the “Queen of Street Literature,” Wahida Clark. Her titles, which include Thug Lovin’, What’s Really Hood, and The Golden Holsta, are flying off the shelves in Chicago, New York, and Atlanta, and Ms. Clark has speaking invitations from libraries across the country.

Nevertheless, this book shouldn’t have ended up in a child’s hands. Whose job is it to police what your kids are getting from the library? The friendly librarian will point your child to the young adult section, but she is likely not carding. The American Library Association does not have a book rating system, as they consider that a form of censorship. (No, not the “C” word!)

Most libraries do not “ban” books. Most libraries depend on their head librarians to select materials based upon a materials management policy. The Miami-Dade Public Library System does carry Fifty Shades of Grey, Jackie Collins, Danielle Steele, and plenty of other romance and erotica titles that contain graphic sexual scenarios, including Wahida Clark’s series.

We can judge a movie by its rating; we can judge a TV show by its air time and network; we can put parental controls on the Internet. Books are on a throne. Rating the oldest form of media, whether it be the government or a private entity, somehow conjures up thoughts of book burnings and the Bill of Rights.

Some organizations offer online age-coded guides to recent book releases, but do these raters share your views as a parent? Do they consider a proverbial teenage toe dipped in the provocative Gossip Girl series a safe way to explore complicated topics? How do they feel about bodily functions? (Diary of a Wimpy Kid is riddled with them.)

Reading is an intimate business. You can be supportive of your child’s appetite for reading, but too lenient with their choice of material. You can be skeptical of your child’s appetite, but the lack of support may backfire. What works for some might not work for others, it’s true, but we should stop outsourcing parenting.

Children and teens will read books with bad words and adult situations. It’s not someone else’s job to protect them by rating books. It’s our job to raise them as we want them to be raised.

 

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