Monday, May 28, 2012

Monday Musings - Young Adult Books - What exactly does it all mean?

Did you ever notice how movies are rated, but books really aren't? Did you know just because a book is labeled as Young Adult, it doesn't mean it's appropriate for Teens? It just means that it's marketed to them. What's a parent to do? With all the books that come out how's a person to keep track of all of them? That is one of the reasons I usually attempt to read books before my daughter does. From what I can gather, the age level assigned by Amazon and B&N and probably others, only tells you what age can handle the reading associated with the book, not the actual age appropriateness. Usually the age of the characters in the book also influence the book's age classification.

Should books be rated like movies? I asked my Goodreads group almost two years ago and got a bunch of mixed opinions. What is appropriate for one child may not be for another. What is acceptable by one parent can differ from that of another with a child of the exact same age. What it all boils down to, in my opinion, is basically four things need to be considered in Young Adult books. The first is the amount of violence, the second is language, and third is sexual content, and the last is the way drugs and alcohol are portrayed in the books.

First, let me just say violence in books is quite different from what is seen in a movie or on the TV. In a book you don't get the visual you would get on a screen, so depending on the details the author gives, it may not appear quite so scary or gory as it would if it was adapted to the screen. For instance, my twelve year old son had no problem reading the 'Hunger Games', but at the theater, he was asking me to tell him when the most violent parts were over so he could start watching again. Again some kids would be okay with the violence of the 'Hunger Games' film while others would not.

Secondly, some parents are going to object to 'foul' or, what my son likes to term, 'colorful' language being used in books. I am amazed at times how much swearing can be included in a YA book. Unless you grow up in a very controlled environment, your kids are probably going to have a pretty 'colorful' set of vocabulary words whether they put them to use or not by their teen years, so the question becomes how 'colorful' is the content of the book and do parents need to know?

Thirdly, the young adult age range can vary from 12 to 18. That is a very wide variance in age, and what is appropriate sexually for a 12 year old can be very different from what is considered appropriate for an 18 year old. After all, according to the US 18 is considered the legal age of consent. Plus, if we're to go by what former President Clinton believes, certain acts are not considered as being sex even though sex is included in their commonly known names. So lets just agree to disagree there.

Fourthly, the use of drugs and alcohol in books can and can not be appropriate for kids depending on how they're portrayed. Do I want my child to read a book where someone blatantly uses drugs and alcohol like it's tea and pop? Ahhh, no! But I do know that some parents will disagree with me on that even if the law is with me. Additionally, if a family comes here from Europe where the drinking age is lower than ours who am I to tell them they are wrong? In my humble opinion, I couldn't and wouldn't. Again it all boils down to the kids and the parents. One last thing to consider, if the main character of a book were to hit a downward spiral via drugs and/or alcohol and a lesson can be learned, well, heck I might just be the one to go out and buy the book for them.

So I'm sort of on the fence with giving Young Adult literature a rating scale. I wouldn't mind one, but who would be in charge of determining what is appropriate for my child and could I trust them? With four things to be considered, can it be nicely bundled into a tightly bowed rating scale, and who is going to sit down and read all those books? For now I'm going to keep using my own time proven method of reading it before they do. In my humble opinion, it's the only way I'll ever know for sure if a book is appropriate for my child. Oh, and if anyone is looking to pay people to read and rate appropriateness, I could use a nice paying stay-at-home job that I already love to do, so sign me up! :)

Original post from almost 2 years ago that I expanded on from my blog can be found at:

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