Warnings on Teen Books: Helpful Tips or Censorship?

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.

Author: Mindy R

I'm a librarian, writer, book reviewer, etc.

5 thoughts on “Warnings on Teen Books: Helpful Tips or Censorship?”

  1. I am one of those people who believes that it doesn’t matter what efforts adults take to limit what their children read. If a kid is told they cannot read something they will find a way to get their hands on this forbidden material and all the parental efforts will be for naught.

  2. I don’t think there should be ratings on books, but I wonder if there is a website that reviews books for content? I have a 7 year old that is reading at a very high level and I don’t want to introduce her to topics that a 7 year old doesn’t need to hear about quite yet.

    1. Stacey, I recommend the professional reviews in School Library Journal or Booklist. The reviews are often reprinted on Amazon or in your library’s catalog. They are written by librarians, and they usually give a suggested age/grade range for the book. In general, I feel like any “content issues” are at least mentioned in the reviews as well. Good luck! :)

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