I confess that I was one of those mothers. You know the type, the one who screened everything my kids read, watched, and listened to. Even up to their mid-teens, my son and daughter (bless their hearts) had to ask permission to listen to certain music, read certain books, watch certain movies, or play certain video games. I researched authors and content and often read, watched, or listened for myself before approving or rejecting a choice.
My parenting approach was not always popular with my kids or with friends and family, for that matter, but I was doing what I believed was right. Does that equate with banning books or stifling expression? Not at all.
As parents, one of our most important responsibilities is to protect and prepare our children to live as productive, wise, and ethical citizens. Developmentally, there are only certain concepts they can grasp and reason through at any given stage. I wanted to honor that development process and provide a safe place for it to happen. Society does much the same thing when enacting age requirements on privileges such as driving, voting, and drinking alcohol.
According to the ALA, over the years, parents have been the most avid proponents of banning books, and their motivation is not unreasonable. Their desire (usually) is to protect children from exposure to excessive violence, offensive language, and sexually explicit material.
What’s so bad about that?
Nothing at all—at least on the surface. The problem lies in one group of people wanting to enforce their values on the rest of the population—a pretty blatant infringement of First Amendment rights. But there is no reason we, as parents, can’t have the best of both worlds—freedom of expression and healthy boundaries for our children.
Instead of wholesale banning, we should focus on one-on-one bonding. Here are some ways to do that.
Read books together. Take an interest in their favorite author or series and read it on your own. Find out what they like about it and why it interests them. Check out their school reading list and read along with them. That allows you not only to talk about their day but to help them study later if they need help.
Engage in discussion. Talk with them about the overall message and the specific character choices. Ask questions about whether they believe the characters made wise choices and see if they think the overall message matches their own understanding of right and wrong.
Develop a dialogue. Establish a connection based on a mutual respect of thoughts and ideas that will flow into other areas of life. The conversations you share now may very well open doors for major discussions on the choices they’ll need to make later.
Allow for independent thought. Encourage them to express their own opinions without condemnation. Remember it’s a dialogue (especially as they mature). My kids and I discussed and debated many of their choices when they were younger, but as they matured, they began arguing their own opinions more boldly.
My daughter took the initiative as a young teen and did the research herself on one book series she wanted to read. I had initially rejected the series, but her eloquence in arguing the advantages of the books convinced me to change my mind. She’d learned to think for herself and exercise her rights respectfully. It was a proud mom moment—one well worth the effort.
My children are both grown now, and we still engage in conversation about books, culture, and current events. Though we don’t always agree on the issues, the respect we share continues to grow, and that’s a pretty amazing gift.
—Vickie Price Taylor