Should minors have complete access to information?

Guest post by Rodrigues

stack of books, Ballard, Seattle, Washington As a Library and Information Studies grad student, I have been reading theory concerning the 1st Amendment and specifically how it affects media offered to kids. To summarize a few weeks’ reading: the American Library Association takes a hard, unequivocal stance against censorship, while many government and civil groups oppose total freedom of information when it comes to minors.

I am wondering what my fellow mamas think about this conflict. On one hand, there is a personal responsibility in parenthood to direct the media your kids ingest according to your values. However, there is also the village aspect: imagine the working mom who allows her kid to hang out at the library after school until she can pick him up. As patrons of a public service, do such moms have the right to ask the library to use web filters for minors? Should a book with “adult” content have a bar code restricting the under 16 crowd from checking it out? Or does the first Amendment trump censorship of every kind?

Comments on Should minors have complete access to information?

  1. Oh, gosh. When I was younger, my dad was VERY anti-censorship. The rule was that if a book was in our house, I could read it. And I did, and giggled over explicit material with my friends and got in trouble at my after school program in fifth grade for sharing it. My dad bought my Alanis Morrisette’s Jagged Little Pill when it came out when I was in fourth grade, because he wanted me to listen to music by female artists. I was never told I was too young to watch a movie that I was interested in. It worked out great for us.

    Yet, now that I am pregnant I feel SO UNSURE about all of this, even though it worked out so well for me, and I had always admired my dad for being so open. I’ll be driving to work listening to music on my ipod, when some lyrics will jump out at me, and I think, “gosh, I really need to make a kid-friendly playlist before the baby gets here.” Do I really? As kids, we always listened to whatever my parents listened to, and I’m pretty sure that whatever was inappropriate went right over my head until I was old enough to get it.

    I don’t think that anything I read or listen to or watch is worse than the media my parents consumed, but I can’t shake this feeling that I should be policing it all come July.

    • My parents were also very open with me as a child. I grew up a lot differently than my sheltered peers. I think because of my knowledge, and the fact there was no “veil of mystery” I did not drink (much), do drugs, or even have sex until I was 18! I hope I can be as forthcoming with my children and that they are as well-mannered as I was, even if they are more mainstream than I ever was.

      • I’ve been joking to my classmates that librarians should start marking classic lit as 18+, so more kids will read them 😉

    • The only response I have is that you just have to make sure your kids are able to recognize the difference between “OK” and not when it comes to socializing. I teach special education and one of my students came in the other day excited because his brother let him listen to his I-pod. When I asked what songs he liked, he loudly proclaimed “Dirty Bitch!”
      Honestly, I don’t know the song, and I know his mom is as awesome as they come, but I still feel like she would have been embarrassed for him when he said that.
      I just reminded him that some words shouldn’t be said at school…

  2. Personally, I’m against censorship 100%. My parents didn’t censor my reading, my music or my tv-watching habits … and, while some stuff was probably a beyond me, it didn’t turn me into a raving freak. In fact, I always felt better knowing that I could look stuff up if I didn’t understand it. Being a pretty curious kid, I looked up all sorts of stuff – it stood me pretty well when it was time for school. In fact, in some cases, I actually knew stuff about a subject that a teacher didn’t. That said, I wouldn’t recommend the “just look stuff up” approach for self-educating; it usually lead to even more questions than I had time to try to find answers for.
    Oh, and now that I’m in post-secondary school, I find the ability and interest in finding my own information to be invaluable when it comes to writing papers. As well, I don’t just assume that there are only a couple of ways to see an issue – being able to realize that there were as many opinions about things as there are people was really eye-opening and definitely made me less judge-y.
    When it comes to the house, parents obviously have the last word in what their child is exposed to. When it comes to public institutions, however, that’s a whole different kettle of fish. If people don’t want their kids exposed to different things, then don’t let them hang out at the library. That’s what libraries are *for* – they’re repositories of knowledge and information. Besides, libraries are PUBLIC. If someone wants to form a library that doesn’t carry any objectionble (to them) material, that’s what private libraries like the Christian Reading Room are for.
    Sorry if this comes off as ‘ranty’, but access to knowledge is a huge red button for me. Denying people (even kids) their right to information is, to me, a human rights violation – lack of information is generally what’s used to keep a populace uninformed and unaware of their potential.

    • I agree. And speaking of The Christian Reading Room, I’d just like to point out that if this did become an issue with public libraries, you know damn well that gay books/resources/movies would be banned. As well as a bunch of other “offensive” things. Which is why there needs to be places where kids can get uncensored information – they need to be able to shape their own opinions.

  3. I am firmly and strongly against censorship in any form. I think it is a very slippery slope without any firm lines just giant blurry blobs all over the place. I read a lot of “adult content” as a kid and firmly beleive it did nothing but good (opened my mind, gave me information I wanted, etc).
    What constitutes adult content isn’t always clear and it upsets me when valuable books are passed by because of assumptions on content and that’s WITHOUT censorship. I guess for me, I trust my children and want to encourge them to discover anything they want about the world around them. And hopefully I can be an aware enough parent to help them with questions they have and help them in their journey of discovery.

    As for asking the library to shoulder the responsibility, I don’t think I agree with thta. I think that it goes against ALA policy for one things. Also, I really wonder how necessary it is…I guess I think a library is an awfully public place to look up porn when you can steal a nudey mag from your bigbrother/father/friend/etc…

  4. For me, the issue is not censorship but age-appropriateness. There are some books I read in middle and high school that I still have nightmares about– The Painted Bird and Go Ask Alice, for example. That said, if my kid was hanging out at the library after school, I would not want the librarian to police my kid’s reading choices. Instead, if she brought home a book that I thought was inappropriate, I would tell her as much and find alternatives for her. It all goes back to letting parents do their job, instead of expecting public institutions to act in loco parentis. It sets a bad precedent to let libraries censor material based on age.

    • I read Go Ask Alice in fifth grade when one of my teachers told me about it. Despite hanging out with tons of druggies in high school, I never even experimented with hard drugs because I was convinced I would instantly become an addict and it would ruin my life. I can’t say that being “traumatized” by that book was necessarily a bad thing.

    • I agree with this 1000% to the nth power (letting parents do their job, instead of expecting public institutions to). Parents need to be parents and stop expecting teachers, doctors, and various branches of the government to do that job for us. That not only dis-empowers us as role models but also robs them of their sense of autonomy not to mention makes it easier and easier for the government to perpetuate the herd mentality.

    • Age-appropriateness is something I deal with on a daily basis- I’m a SCHOOL librarian. The difference between my position and one of a public library is that parents have an opportunity to “shop” for books with their children in the public library, and not so here.

      Most school librarians naturally “censor” (for lack of a better term) for appropriateness by only choosing to buy books for the particular age their school serves. For example, you wouldn’t buy Game of Thrones for an elementary library. However, my district is small so I do have elementary aged students shopping for books next to my Seniors. That said, and maybe its wrong, I do slightly regulate what students check out, with a very easy and open way to have parents sign off on open access to everything, including those titles you mentioned! 🙂 I just want to be sure parents have the opportunity to have that discussion with their child.

  5. I think it’s a very slippery slope. The idea of censoring books just reminds me of all those stories about parents trying to censor curriculum in high schools, banning books like “Catcher in the Rye” and “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings”. I think “unlimited information” isn’t the same as “unlimited reading material” — use parental controls on your TV and internet, but let your kid read as many books as they want. Just know what it is they’re reading.

  6. It wouldn’t work. The moment you try to restrict access, someone will find a way to get it anyway. As a kid, I didn’t find most adult lit interesting anyway so it wasn’t an issue. And once I hit puberty, nothing (and I mean NOTHING) was going to stop me from getting what I wanted…censorship would’ve just pissed me off and sent me on a civil rights rampage.

  7. The school I went to for 3rd and 4th grade had a dot system. The color dot on the side of the book correlated to the age group/maturity the librarians felt the book was targeted to. At the end of every quarter with report cards the teachers sent a permission slip home. Parents could choose to let their children check out only books for their age group or younger, books to a certain more mature/older level, or any book. My parents always let me check out any book, but I thought the system was an interesting effort to compromise. No books were removed from the library, parents who were comfortable with their children reading more mature books could let them, etc.

    • Our books were also marked by age, though I don’t remember any permission issues. I loved the system, because it made it easy for me to instantly find the most advanced books.

  8. I agree with those who have said its not a censorship issue, its an appropriateness issue.

    Children as young as 4th grade can be entirely capable of reading adult books, and also be entirely incapable of processing and handling adult content. It’s not fair to a small child to give them free access to graphic adult sexuality and violence before they are ready.

    • I agree, but I feel like a piece is missing here – interest. I was the fourth grader with a college reading level who read everything I wanted, including some stuff aimed at slightly older kids. However, I wasn’t interested in novels aimed at adults until I was more than capable of handling it, so I simply didn’t read it. There are plenty of books that elementary and middle-schoolers will find far more interesting and enjoyable.

    • The argument from the American Library Association’s perspective is that any inhibited access is censorship, regardless of age or what is being prohibited. The main problem becomes: appropriate according to whom?

      I can totally understand parents wanting their kids to have what they consider age-appropriate materials, but I can also see the slippery slope of deciding appropriateness. That is why I think this is an interesting issue, especially since libraries, whether in school or public, are funded by taxpayers.

  9. I don’t want to censor my daughter at all. It will feel wierd for me though because I was heavily censored growing up. I really wish I hadn’t. I hope I am doing the right thing for my girl by not.

    • I do think you are doing the right thing. So long as you are open and available to answer your child’s questions honestly and completely, I truly believe this is the best approach! I’ve seen it work well for my nieces, and it’s how I was raised, so it’s what I’m going to do for my own children when they’re old enough.

  10. I think it depends on your kid. You shouldn’t expect anyone other than you to choose what is or is not right for your child to read. If you think your kid is mature enough to handle anything they can find, then let them. Talk to them about what is real and what is fiction, talk to them about how nothing in books (just like movies) can come out of it to hurt them. Tell them about books you love. Hand them books you think they’ll love. In the end, to censor or not to censor should depend on the person being censored.

  11. I think I have really “backwards” censorship ideas, as in I would freely have my kids watching some clever indie movie that might also have nudity or sex or cursing or drug use or whathaveyou, but I might feel inclined to censor a horrible Disney show in which the main character is a disgusting stereotype. Does that make sense? I have definitely told a kid or two that we are not watching Ice Princess, but I encourage you to watch Futurama and Dexter.

    But overall I don’t think I would expressly FORBID those things I do not like, but would rather discuss why I don’t approve of them and encourage some critical thinking. That’s a much better option to me (and a lot less lazy) than just outright censoring material.

    • sounds perfect. tell your kids honestly what your concerns are with a book or show that they want to watch, then make sure they know you are available if they want more information or have any questions if they do watch it. Also not censoring anything makes it less interesting to find out what it is that your parents don’t want you to watch.

  12. I work at a library, and from what I’ve seen, kids generally don’t seek out adult books. If anything, they check out books below their age and reading level.

    Censoring books only serves to undermine the potential of those who wish to read.

    Perhaps you don’t want a 12-year-old reading about sex, but plenty of them are having it. Adults (especially parents) tend to conveniently forget what happened to them as children/young adults. To remove information from those who may need it hurts them. I understand that adults generally think they know what’s best and that they are inherently more mature than anyone younger than they are, but the vast majority of children are not as immature as they look. I know I am an exception, but I was never shielded from so-called adult content – we read The Pearl (Steinbeck) as a bedtime story when I was 5. I feel that the openness in my life in terms of learning about the world and human behavior ultimately helped me become a more balanced individual. While most of my peers are struggling with how to function in the adult world and have healthy relationships, I have the tools I need to be successful.

    While I understand that people really don’t want their kids reading romance novels or graphic (in terms of violence) books such as “A Child Called It,” kids really don’t want to read them. Give your child a choice between an age appropriate book and one that isn’t and they will choose the appropriate one. I know there are exceptions (like me), but frankly we aren’t scarred for life.

    The only thing I would suggest is to identify truly scary books and steer your kids clear of them.

  13. I am 100% against government or public institution censorship. The example given of certain books being unavailable for checkout by minors–ABSOLUTELY not. It just seems absurd to me. Some 12 year olds could benefit from reading “adult” content, and some 19 year olds wouldn’t. Not to mention what committee defines what “adult” content is in the first place.

    The thing is, there’s not enough time in one person’s life to read all the books in the world, let alone watch all the movies and listen to all the music. What about recommending media we think kids WILL like, media we WANT them to read/see/hear? Overpower them with awesomeness and they won’t have time for the other stuff. Yeah, it’s a little more work on the adult’s end, but that’s what being an adult is all about.

  14. My parents let me pick whatever I wanted to read without a problem. I never wanted to read romance novels or books in the ‘grown up’ section, they looked boring to me. TV did have some “When you’re older” shows and channels, but the moment I was old enough, they just told me not to repeat anything to my little brothers.

    I asked my parents about it a while back, and they said that if they banned it without a reason, I’d try to read/watch it. If they told me it was full of grown up stuff like swearing or people getting shot, I’d decide on my own that I didn’t want to be involved because it was too scary or I didn’t get it. I actually recall them letting me watch a Bond film when I was little, I left the room because it bothered me to see everyone being hurt and grabbed a book instead.

    I recall trying to read Lord of The Rings when I was in the fourth grade, it seemed like a grown up novel, and I thought if I could read that, I could read any adult book. Well, the vocabulary was over my head as was a lot of the plot. My dad just smiled when I said I wanted a different book and helped me find a chapter book closer to my comprehension level.

    Let’s face it, banning something makes people want to figure out how to get it to see why it was banned. Allowing a child to explore whatever they want let’s them recognize their limits and tastes. And it’s never a problem to say no if you think they are too young for something, but always let them try it out later on if they still are interested in it. Reasoning with a child and telling them why you’re saying no for the moment lets them know that the material isn’t taboo, it’s just that they’re too young for it at the moment. My parents used that when I was allowed to watch the Simpsons for the first time, I had to promise that I wouldn’t repeat it to my younger brothers because they might not get it or it may bother them. I remembered that some of the material would have made no scene to me if I was their age and didn’t mind not telling them, and I understood that a book put on the high shelf for later or a show being turned off when I was in the room is ok in my home. I can always get them later on when I’ll understand better.

  15. As adults we frequently think that children are unable to handle certain ideas, stories, or situations, and that it is our responsibility as parents to prevent our children from being exposed to these things.

    What we forget is that our children are people just the same as you, or me, or your neighbor, and that children aren’t exempted from basic human rights. Access to information is one such right.

    Parents *do* have a responsibility to care for their children, but that doesn’t mean stopping them from accessing information they desire. It is our responsibility to make thoughtful recommendations to our children to refrain from offering material we believe may harm them, and to give them justifications for our decisions.

    But we do not have the right to blindfold them, and we certainly do not have the right to force public institutions to blindfold others’ children. If we want our children to become good people we should start by treating them as though they are.

  16. When I was growing up, my parents always let me read anything I wanted. They didn’t screen it first or anything, although I was definitely the kind of kid to blather about whatever I was reading, so it’s not like they had no clue at all.

    I was an insatiable reader and started reading “grown-up” level books when I was 10 or so. I remember reading Anne Rice books when I was 11. A lot of the stuff I was reading at that age included some relatively graphic sex and violence. I think a lot of parents would have seriously disapproved. I know some of my relatives definitely did.

    But, um. The thing is that I also was one of the few kids I knew who WASN’T sexually experimenting with other kids. I chose to explore my sexuality through fiction rather than through the real world, and as a result I think I avoided a lot of the “trouble” that many teens (particularly those who go through puberty early, like I did) get into.

    I’m totally not saying that you should give your kids porn or anything! I’m just saying that, although I know it makes a lot of adults uncomfortable, there are perfectly healthy reasons why young people might want to read stuff targeted at an older age group.

    Obvs, I’m against censorship in libraries. Kids who aren’t ready for more mature material will most likely get bored with it and/or not even understand it, even if they do accidentally pick it up or deliberately seek it out. Reading takes way more effort than watching TV, after all.

    • I was the same way. I started reading books that described adult sexual acts when I was the same age, and it was a learning experience. I just wish that there had been more literature about gay relationships (hell, there still isn’t a lot of it)… I had romantic heterosexual relationships ingrained into my mind from a young age, and it made the coming out process that much more difficult. I had never been presented with any kind of media that portrayed homosexual relationships. Unfortunately, however, I think this is going to be a problem that kids will have for years to come.

  17. I think there is a place for some censorship at home (generally in relation to tv/films/internet, not so much books), but absolutely not in public libraries.

  18. I could read just about any and everything as a kid (well, probably not Playboy/Playgirl-type magazines, but I rarely came across those anyway), but my mother felt Cosmo was inappropriate for me (this was while she was in nursing school, and I regularly read her school books when I ran out of my own stuff to read). Later the same day she said that, she saw me reading Tina Turner’s autobiography – and had no problem with it.

    To this day, I don’t read Cosmo – it bores me to tears.

    I think parents should be aware of what their child is reading, but I don’t think they should restrict what they read. My mother’s “censoring” of Cosmo stands out for me because it was SO unusual – I cannot think of any time before or after that she made any restrictions on my reading. And because she didn’t, I obeyed her (believe me – that’s a big deal!), and in hindsight, I agree with her.

  19. We’re still unsure if we’ll have kids – but over the years I’ve developed a habit of listening to music for whether it’s kid-appropriate or not. My concerns are much more about misogyny, self-esteem, and social issues than profanity or sex. For example: Public Enemy’s Fight the Power would be fine – but most of Pitbull would not be on the playlist. And to be clear – this is for playlists for young kids (say, under 5ish), not kids who are listen to their own music.

    As for libraries, bookstores, and other repositories of information – yes, I think minors should have complete access. Parents should make decisions on what their kids are allowed to access (personally, I wouldn’t make anything off limits), and the fact that some won’t doesn’t mean anyone else should step in and do it for them.

  20. As a mother-to-be and an avid reader of all sorts of literature I am unsure how I feel about censorship. My reading level has always been advanced and I was reading college level books in fifth grade. My parents, brother, husband, and other family members all share my passion for books. If I did not understand something “adult natured” when I was younger, it usually went over my head. I think it is important to nurture a love for reading in children.

    I am sure there are some TV programs, movies, or music I will monitor before I let my child watch them. With the way that shows/movies/music/books are going, who can say what is best for my child or other children? I am not sure. Overall I think it is important to be open and honest with your children. My parents did not allow me to watch the Simpsons until I was 12 and now they laugh because that show is tame compared to some others.

    I think as a parent you have to use your best judgment and provide your child with the opportunity to open their imagination. I also think it is important that parents keep an open line of communication with their children so kids can come with them with questions about what they read/watch/listen to. Just try your best to answer the hard questions. Heck that is what my parents did with me and I turned out perfectly well rounded. (sorry so long).

  21. My FH and I have a huge library, and we are most proud of the “banned” book collection we have. I hope that as my kids reach the age where they can understand the books that they will read them. I hope that the more they know, and the more they can understand the better they can help the world to be.

  22. It’s so hard to compare this to when one was a child, really – the availability of information has changed so profoundly. The fact is, when it comes to books, they’re the last place kids are going to look for ‘contraband knowledge’ – I think it’s hardly an issue any more. Unless, of course, web censorship/controls become so normative that kids start realising it could be easier to find it in a book!

    My feeling of any matter of ‘is it suitable for kids’ is, yes, do exercise some control regarding violence, sex and the likes. As for the rest – don’t ‘ban’, mediate. I never seem to hear people talking about the idea of parental mediation, and I think it’s so important and that ‘the problem’, if there is one, is not that kids are accessing or being exposed to so much ‘unsuitable material’; it’s that we are leaving them to deal with it alone. It’s not that we have to hover over them, or ban things – but parents (and teachers, perhaps) need to keep an open channel so that the children they deal with can talk to them about about concerns, whether it’s a little kid wondering why the news is so scary, or a teenager thinking ‘I suppose I’d be prudish if I didn’t let my boyfriend have anal sex with me’

    So I think it involves establishing a bond of trust early, taking an interest in what your kid is interested in (even if, perhaps especially if, you hate it) rather than being all ‘Ugh, why do you like that stupid programme/website so much?’ so that discussing concerns or confusion about what they see all around them becomes normal. I think kids aren’t so much made ‘bad’ by a lot of ‘negative influences’, but they are often confused and scared inside by seeing things they don’t have the maturity to deal with, even though they may put on the ‘seen it all’ attitude to the world.

  23. Should minors have complete access to information? Short answer: yes.
    I am massively against censorship against children because of their age. I understand the idea of age-appropriateness, but there is no one-size-fits-all to that. For every kid who likes to read within their “age group”, there’s one like my hubby, who was reading Jurassic Park at six or so (the novel of which is far more graphic and adult than the film). I myself was reading Stephen King and history/anthropology books in elementary school. There was never book censorship for me growing up, and now that I have a child, I don’t want him to be limited because of his age. He loves dinosaurs and loves watching Jurassic Park, which is PG-13 for those interested. Right now the reading issue isn’t really there, as he’s only 19 months and we read stories together, but once he’s old enough, he has free reign of the bookshelves in our house (all three of them lol), and anything else he wants. Books are way too important to me to limit them because of some perceived idea that he would be too young for them. Anything he doesn’t understand, we will discuss in an age-appropriate way.
    As for movies, other than something really scary, I don’t want to limit him either. But it’s all about communication. You can’t just throw him in front of 300 without some explanation. Music, again, I am against limits. My kid loves metal and classic rock. We bought him a kid CD (lullabye renditions of Metallica: http://www.amazon.com/Rockabye-Baby-Lullaby-Renditions-Metallica/dp/B000GY72JM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=music&qid=1299006054&sr=8-1), and he didn’t like it, he was bored. Put on the real thing, and he’ll headbang with the best of them.
    Lol, I hope this isn’t a rant, but censorship of any kind, and especially at kids, is something that I get all riled up about. 😀 I just can’t agree to it.

    • I snuck Jurassic Park out of my school’s library when I was in the 3rd grade because it was in the “grade 4 & 5 only” section. I also bought Stephen King’s “IT” from the school book sale under the guise that it was for my mom’s Christmas present (which was the point of the sale, and why it had so many adult books).

      Obviously, I’m against censoring kids! Although I’m inclined to agree with other commenters that I’d be more likely to try and keep Disney princess material out of my kid’s hands than adult novels.

  24. I guess I’ll be the lone opposing voice in all this. When I was a kid, my parents DID restrict what I read and watched. So when I came across books at the library with violent or graphically sexual content, I was horribly traumatized and had nightmares. I had a very advanced reading level and loved to read science fiction and fantasy … unfortunately some of those are really not appropriate for kids!

    I have no problem with parents letting their children read what they want. But I think it’s okay for parents to shelter their kids, too, especially really sensitive ones like I was. And I don’t think the library has the right to undermine that.

    I like the idea of having parents approve whether their kids can read books of a certain age range or not. Or, at the very least, allow parents to see their kids’ library records. Of course it’s the parents’ responsibility to make sure their kids aren’t reading things that will bother them, but the library can help out a lot, or at least not try to stop them. In any event, “access to information” is not a universal human right. The phrase “universal human right” has been expanded so far that it’s applied to almost anything! And I don’t think it was my “right,” as a ten-year-old, to read about blood, guts, war, sex, and other mature themes. I needed protection, not more information.

    And I’m not the only person I know who was completely turned off the idea of sex by graphic pictures or descriptions seen at too young an age.

    • I think parents should be able to censor whatever they want, however it is not the library’s responsibility to do this for the parent. If a parent wants to restrict what their child is reading (which I agree, may make sense for kids that may be sensitive to certain things) then they should either not allow the child to have a separate library card (they could check things out for them) or they should go with them to the library to supervise their choices. I think if the child is young enough to need things censored, they probably shouldn’t be there without supervision anyway. A library is not a daycare center, it is a place of business, if the kid is old enough to be there alone, they are also old enough that the parents can let them know beforehand which types of books might be disturbing to them.

  25. I don’t think my mother liked me reading Cosmo but she did what I think was far more effective in getting me to see it for what it was that outright banning it – she mocked it. If I brought one home she’d flick through it and criticise all the different parts of it. I got a really good understanding of advertising and the media market from her doing that, even if it was exasperating at the time.

Read more comments

Comments are closed.