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. There was an article here on OBM which had the following words in the title: ‘age-appropriate truths’.
    I think that might be the key here too. I think it is good that there are libraries where kids can go to have their world enlarged. But I would be shocked if my 10 year old brought back porn (libraries carry dvds) or adult books with a lot of violence/sex going on. So I think librarians should encourage kids to pick age appropriate books. (I think this was how it went when I was a kid. I remember something like having to explain why you picked a book out of your age category. But I’m in Europe…)
    EDIT: to clarify: in my library, there were age appropriate books about sex, drugs etc. without those being judgy (at least, I don’t remember that). But I guess that has a lot to do with my liberal country…
    In the end, I agree it’s the parents that should decide and guide/help their kids in picking out books, talking to them about whether or not they are appropriate. Not of the librarian. But maybe libraries can do something in shelving adult stuff on higher shelves/have special kid shelves/store adult content in a certain place, so that it is not inaccessible, but harder for kids to find it.

  2. “Should a book with “adult” content have a bar code restricting the under 16 crowd from checking it out?” No. I think it should be up to the parents to take a look at what the kids are reading… even though I realize that puts a lot of responsibility on some parents who just don’t care. However, I change my answer for movies. I do think films should be restricted to the age range given by the rating… after all, I have grade 2 students who have watched all of the Saw movies. I may completely disagree with the American rating system (The Kings Speech was PG in Alberta, and R in the US from what I understand… R???? crazy!) but they protect children from seeing things they shouldn’t see.

    Books however, well, I realize a lot of them have material above the maturity of children (Heck, it is where I first learned the term blow job!), but parents a) have more time to stop the kid from reading it (as most books take longer to read than 2 hours if they are full of adult material) and b) It is less visual. If the kid doesn’t know what it is, they can only imagine it to a certain point.

  3. As another Library and Information Science grad student, I’m very anti-restricting-access because of age, and I love this post to bits. Article V of the Library Bill of Rights states that “A person’s right to use a library should not be denied or abridged because of origin, age, background, or views.”

    I would interpret an over-16 barcode to be an abridging of a patron’s right to read.

  4. Check out “Not in Front of the Children” by Marjorie Heins. It’s a great look at the construct of “childhood innocence”. Personally, I think it is society’s job to provide uncensored information and a parent’s job to guide thier children in the direction they feel is most benificial. We have OODLES of books in our house, none of them are “off limits” but the rule with music, movies, & other media is “take in what you want… but be prepared to have a frank conversation about it with us”. We also keep a teen targeted “sex ed” / health / general info book in plain sight in our living room so that if anyone needs to “check something” or is embarrassed about asking something they have another option.

  5. So I was raised in a rather conservative, catholic household. My parents took away Madonna tapes from my older sister because of her lyrics. That being said, as far as books went, as long as it wasn’t porn or erotica, it was fair game. We always had a ton of books at my house growing up, in all honesty, reading was really the only activity that my parents didn’t have issues with. And then with me raising my kids, I dont sensor my music, or my language. When my boys start saying things that are prob really inappropriate for them, I tell them they can use those words at home with mom and dad, but until they get bigger they shouldnt say things like that in front of other people. I do sensor movies and video games, more stringently than my husband would like. But as far as books go, if my kids are old enough to be able to read the words, they can read the book. If they want to hide it from me, that sucks but ok. I would love for my kids to wander around the library and pick things up.

  6. I am also an LIS grad student, but not a mother. (Nor do I ever plan on becoming one – but that’s beside the point). With that said, I totally agree with the ALA’s stance on access for all. If parents don’t want their children to see certain items that is a discussion they need to have with their children and partner. It isn’t the library’s job to censor (it’s the exact opposite, in fact) or to act “in loco parentis”.

  7. I agree whole heartedly with what most people have been saying about books — if it’s in the house, it’s fair game.

    I was an advanced reader for my age. By the time I was 10 or 11, I was caught between reading books that were way too easy but had ‘age appropriate’ content or books that were appropriate to my reading age but which contained references to sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and other mature topics.

    My parents were very open and happy to discuss anything I had read with me on equal terms. They never denied me access to any books, although they very definitely disapproved of my trashy romance stage. I generally think that reading the more mature books, in the context of my parents being aware and prepared to discuss things with me, helped to make me more mature, rather encouraging early promiscuity or anything like that. I didn’t drink other than an occasional glass of wine with my parents until I was of legal age, have never really felt the desire to experiment with drugs, and the only person I’ve ever had sex with is the man who is now my husband.

    Don’t get me wrong – I firmly believe in happy consenting adults having happy consenting time together, as evidenced by the fact that I very enthusiastically hopped into bed with the now-husband on our second date. But I also had the confidence to know myself and what was right for me.

    That said.

    It’s not just about books these days, is it? There aren’t any books carried by public libraries that I would be worried about my future-children bringing home. If they have the ability to read it, they can have at it and I will happily sit down and discuss it with them, as my parents did with me.

    The internet, on the other hand, provides unlimited access to content that I am not so comfortable with the idea of children getting hold of. Reading ability is its own censor when it comes to books – most seven or eight year olds are going to struggle to understand the vocabulary inherent in the purplest of prose. But those same kids aren’t going to struggle to click on a link to some porno pop-up ad for and get a face full of images that they don’t need a good vocabulary to access. And this is where the censorship debate gets a little fuzzier for me.

  8. My parents were pretty strict about not letting me see racist Disney movies, and they only bought me barbies of colour. I feel like that was such an important part of my childhood. I had to deal with racism on the playground, so they felt like it was important to shelter me from racism within our own home, creating a safe space if you will. It wasn’t like the rest of the world wasn’t racist, but at least when I came home I had positive role models and representations of my people… Other forms of censorship they didn’t really give a shit about. I started reading adult sci-fi and fantasy around the age of six, and I don’t think it screwed me up at all…

  9. My mother never tried to censor music or books at all, the only thing I wasn’t allowed to see were things with a lot of violence or scary themes, as I’ve had anxiety and night-terrors all my life and things like scary movies made it all much worse. But when it came to books I knew what things were too scary for me, and if a book started getting scary i stopped reading it. But books were always readily available to me.

  10. First of all, it been ruled by the Supreme court time and time again that the Bill of Rights do no unequivocally apply to minors … kids get their lockers searched, books are restricted, etc.

    I personally really believe in not censoring kids. A big part of it is that you can’t control what your kids see. It’s not just working parents who leave their kids at the library (um, do they? My parents worked and I was in daycare and later was a latch key kid … somehow just leaving your kids at the library is a bit disturbing to me, but I don’t know. Anyway …) — your kids go to friends house or are a part of clubs, etc and you can’t control the media they have access to. To me, not censoring is about having conversations with your kids — maybe it is inappropriate, but your kid WILL BE exposed to “age inappropriate” things. How will you explain it to them? Think about it: You walk by a strip club; You see some dude masturbating on the street; etc etc.

    Also, I would be more disturbed if my (hypothetical) kid was exposed to homophobic or super religious reading material than if they were exposed to sex or drugs, so it brings up “What exactly is inappropriate?” and I can’t help come to the conclusion that it depends on your values as a parent.

    (Also, frankly, this reminds me up religious/homophobic people who argue that gays can’t get married, because “What will they tell their kids?” People shouldn’t be censored because you can’t talk to your kids … but I totally digress …)

  11. I know people go back and forth on this issue, but for me personally, I don’t see the point in censoring books. I find that to be wrong. Yes, some are… inappropriate, but then again, teach your kids what is the point of these books. Information is a good thing. To shelter yourself away from learning is a terrible thing. I lived in libraries when I was a kid. I just loved them so much. I was able to escape into worlds unknown, and learn about other communities far different from mine. This helped me understand who I was, where I came from and who I wanted to be later on.

    Of course, I will say my parents did do their best to keep our eyes away from certain material, and a small level of that is understandable, but at the same time to completely cut off books from an age group? I think that’s a little much. I like the aspect of being open to things. That is how one learns. There are many of us who were very mature at our age and became bored quickly with ‘age appropriate’ material. I remember one time in elementary school that the librarian would not let me check out a 6th grade reading book because I was in 5th grade. I was very angry because the books they wanted me to read were boring and I needed more words and information. I thought it was the dumbest thing ever. Her reasoning was that we read it in 6th grade. Well, I’m sorry, I wanted to read it then. Instead, I turned to reading Michael Crichton’s books (because those were not forbidden since they weren’t appart of the curriculum.)

  12. Personally, my mom was weird about what movies we could watch (although I tend to lean towards the idea that maybe limited TV and movies isn’t such a bad thing…) but I was allowed to read whatever I wanted. I hope that’s how I’ll be when I have kids.

  13. Hello,
    Thank you for addressing this subject. I have been a public school elementary librarian for 7 years and am currently 8 months pregnant and have been asking many of the same questions that I see others are curious about. I feel that websites can be more dangerous than books. If you don’t believe me type in beaver to Google and you will see what I mean. If I type in beaver to a card catalogue I will find books on the animal. Some websites are run by cache most popular websites, while others are based off of keyword searches. Below I have listed some great kid friendly search engines so they can find the answers they are really looking for about the semi-aquatic rodent and not the urban dictionary definition: (’s Kid site) (Google’s Kid site)
    More of a reference site

    Hope these can be useful.

  14. my mom used to unknowingly buy me erotic fiction. she figured a book was better than me sitting in front of the television all day. i did lose my virginity at 16 and did become quite promiscuous in my time, but i don’t think it had anything to do with my reading material. i did get a lot of great ideas for the bedroom when i was ready to practice them though 😉

    • My mother gave me “Clan of the Cave Bear” to read when I was 11 because she’d somehow managed to forget the graphic rape scenes. Not her best parenting moment but I survived fairly unscathed.

  15. While in theory I’m not opposed to content filters in reality they’re useless at best and extremely problematic at worst (for example limiting access to information about breast cancer because of the word “breast”). Censoring books is equally problematic for a couple of reasons. From an ethical standpoint there’s the slippery slope problem when it comes to what’s “adult” content and who makes that decision. On the practical side short of locking all the “adult” books up you’re not really keeping them away from the kids. When I was 10-13 or so I would bike over to the library most afternoons and spend hours reading all the books my mom didn’t let me check out and I’m sure I’m not the only kid who’s done something similar. Some of it was just because it was junky (Sweet Valley High) but some of it was “inappropriate” like Valley of the Horses and the other sequels to Clan of the Cave Bear (I would actually hide the copy I was reading behind other books on the shelf so it wouldn’t get checked out).

  16. Not censoring is all great in supportive, healthy families. But I have had plenty of students who watched hardcore porn in elementary, or played Call of Duty in kinder. Are these things inherently bad? Perhaps according to certain moral standards, but not necessarily. In a loving, supportive family, kids can discuss things they read/see/play with an adult they trust. In some families that have not buit up these skills, kids don’t have someone to process with, and as such, I feel there needs to be a line. Now what that line is, I have no idea! People have very different standards on what is appropriate. …I plan to read my child Harry Potter as soon as she shows the slightest interest, but someone in my same church thinks it is part of the occult (le sigh). I won’the support her watching porn at aNY age in my home (she wouldn’the get in trouble, but it will not be encouraged ) where as I have friends who think it is a healthy way to explore sexual preferences for an older teen. I will let my child watch violence pretty early on where there is a clear good/bad guy, but I will be saving the Batman/V for Vendetta characters for later. How can a library keep track of that though? I read my students the original versions of fairy tales, but I had another staff member express concern about it.

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