Responsible parenting is very much on everyones mind these days. Everywhere you look there are articles being written about it, television shows and videos which aim to alert parents to potential dangers facing their children, and websites and home pages filled with useful and helpful tips. The concerned parent has never had as many tools or as much information available to them to protect their children.
But, what are your kids reading?
Yes, thats right, reading. Ten years ago, I read an article which said that reading skills in America ranked among the lowest in the industrialized nations of the world. The printed word was no longer viable, the interactive game was in, and civilization as we knew it was over. LCD readout had eplaced ink on paper as far as kids were concerned, and there was nothing that anybody could do about it.
And then along came J.K. Rowling, Lemony Snicket, and a number of others and BANG according to Publishers Weekly, the Childrens/Young Adult book market is the fastest growing market in publishing! Tens of millions of books per year are printed for the 6-15 year old market, encompassing thousands of titles and hundreds of different sorts of subject matter. Go to any local library and the odds are that you will find that the Childrens/Young Adult section is one of the largest there is. And, of course, as children grow older and their reading skills continue to improve, the entire world of adult literature becomes available to them.
This, of course, is not a bad thing however, even though a child has the skills to read something, the responsible parent needs to ask themselves: But do I really want them reading that yet? Is it, for example, appropriate for 8 year olds who have the skills to do so to read The Diary of Anne Frank, even though in many cases the child may not have developed the emotional maturity to be able to handle some of the more intense and disturbing aspects of that work?
All too often, parents adopt an attitude that goes something like: Well, at least they are reading. Whatever it is, its better than them sitting in front of the television! Unfortunately, this is not always the case. It is important to remember that a childs imagination is usually far more vibrant than an adults is and, depending on their age, the line between what is real and what is imaginary is less clear. Children can be affected by the words they read on a number of different levels, and will often times emulate the characters they meet in books both in their attitudes and their behaviors. As a parent, it is important that the books you allow your child to read reflect the value system that you have tried to instill in them. Just as with the monitoring you do of what your child watches on television or what video games he plays or websites he visits, if you dont want your child exposed to (or think that they are too young for) violence, sexual content, drug use, or anything else a Young Adult or Childrens book may contain, it is up to you to make sure that they arent until you feel they are ready.
As with every other part of the publishing industry, sales and sales alone drive what is published in the world of Children/Young Adult literature and the trend recently seems to be towards more sophisticated storylines which often times outline many of the less positive aspects of our culture and life. As a responsible parent, it is up to you to decide when you feel your children have reached the point in their emotional development where you believe they will be able to process this sort of information without harm.
The problem then becomes: How can I possibly read all the books my children want to read before they do? Makes you wish you had an extra set of eyes, right?
There are some resources out there to help guide you. But, most of them either give you a synopsis, which frequently lacks enough details to make a truly educated decision, or, they only do write-ups of the good books, which would be fine if we lived in a perfect world. But things are looking up! There is a website, launched in 2005, that reviews books (and movies) from a parents perspective. Each book is critiqued on positive and negative examples of character traits (i.e. honesty, compassion, responsibility, etc.); as well as providing specific examples of any negative areas of influence (i.e. drug usage, sexual content, violence, etc.). All of these examples will tell a parent, at a glance, if that book is appropriate for their particular child.
Instilling the love of reading in a childs life is one of the most important and positive things you can do for them as a parent. Watching what your child reads, and allowing them to grow into the books you choose together, is one way to help ensure that the values you have worked so hard to teach your children are reinforced by something that they love to do!