May 24, 2012

A Rating System for YA Books: Yea or Nay?

A few days ago there was an article from the U.S. News and World Report about the issue of rating young adult books for mature content. According to a new report from researcher Sarah Coyne at Bingham Young University, the top 40 best-selling children's books on the New York Times list between June 22 and July 6, 2008 had over 1,500 profane words. Because of this, she suggests that a rating system be put into place to warn parents about the books they're letting their children read.

The article quotes Beth Yoke, from ALA, saying, “Books can be a safe way for young people to explore edgier, sensitive, or complicated topics, and they provide parents the opportunity to help their teens grow and understand these kinds of sensitive issues.” She argues that if a large, outside organization were allowed to rate books based on mature content, it would end up forcing authors to edit their books so as not to be placed in an R-rated category. It’s also pointed out that some books, just because of their subject, would automatically be placed in an adult category. Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines is an important book on drug use that by no means encourages teen readers to use, but is still full of profanity. Any effort to censor books like this for content would be to portray the situations inaccurately, and thereby lessen their impact.

Others are speaking out against this issue saying that a universal rating system would not be the answer to the problem of mature content in YA books. Yes, there are adult situations and profanity, but should we necessarily hide those real-life situations from our children? Kids are faced with adult situations at a younger and younger age nowadays, so isn't it a better option to have them read about it rather than try it or see it graphically portrayed on television? Those opposing the system say that forcing a rating system on every book would be to claim that we know what is right for every child at a certain age. If parents would like to know what is in a book, they can read it. They can also go to websites (like this one) who rate books for young readers. But it is up to the individual parents, and no one else, to make that decision. The other side of the argument is that parents don't always have time to read everything their kids read. A system for rating mature content would be beneficial to parents and young readers alike who are trying to figure out if a book is the right choice. After all, many kids don't want to read a book with profanity, so why not give them a way to know just by looking at the cover that they won't like it?
While we do see both sides of this argument, we have to agree that a better option would be for parents to be more involved in what their kids read. The content of books tends to reflect the lives of youth, and so not only does reading the same books help parents to understand their kids, it opens up a line of communication to talk about complex and delicate issues faced by today's youth.

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