Teen fiction is in the news, and it’s bad news again. Last time it was too dark. Now there’s too much profanity, and some people are suggesting a rating system or content warning on books for teens as a solution for parents who are overwhelmed by the thought of reading each and every book their kids want to read.
Today I sat at my desk, which happened to be piled high with the latest in teen fiction, as I listened to an MPR segment discussing the issue. It hit all the usual points about protecting kids or empowering them as readers without reaching any kind of consensus. That’s understandable. It’s a nuanced topic, as many librarians have said. What stood out to me in the show was the host’s apparent surprise at the passion of those arguing against a warning system.
The anti-ratings passion does not surprise me. I think many of us, myself included, argue so fervently against rating the literature of our youth because we remember what we read as teens. We remember how it resonated. It moved us. In many cases, it shaped us. I think we know there’s a strong chance that many of those life-shaping books we connected with at a young age would not have been available to us if they’d had a rating or warning label for our more conservative parents, teachers, or other well meaning adults to see and judge.
I was one of the lucky ones. Mom, if you’re reading this, I am incredibly grateful that you empowered me as a reader. It is a big part of what made me the person I am today, and I am proud of who I have become. I hope you are too.