Should kids be allowed to read anything?

Last updated 10:52 23/07/2013

I'm a rebel when it comes to literature. I believe that children should be allowed to read pretty much whatever they want, no matter their age. With two caveats: 1) they are able to read it themselves without adult help and 2) they feel able to stop reading if they decide the material isn't suitable.

I was allowed to read Stephen King from an insanely young age. Mostly, I think, because my parents didn't actually know his work and the kind of horror he could inflict on the vulnerable mind of a young girl with works like Carrie, The Stand and Pet Sematary.

I suppose the reason I'm thinking of this is because of the recent furore over Ted Dawe's Into The River, a young adult tome which was named book of the year at the New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards. book burning

I haven't picked up a copy of the book, but it appears that some people, not even necessarily parents, are up in arms about detailed descriptions of sex, coarse language and scenes of drug-taking. Frankly, you can get all that stuff in The Hunger Games and some episodes of Shortland Street, so I can't say I'm terribly worried that the book will warp young minds soon.

Children can literally find anything they want to on the internet, and I don't see why people should be offended by a book that sounds like a fine read and that is based on the reality of the society we all live in.

I guess the real question that should be asked is what exactly people are so afraid of when it comes to children and non age-appropriate reading material. I wasn't allowed to read Mills & Boon when I was little, though I have to admit to sneaking a peek at more than a few in my tweens.

The same as preaching abstinence as the best form of contraception to teens, forbidding young people from reading something will surely make the book even more appealing. And shouldn't the argument be made that literature, in all its forms, whether good, bad, gory, moralistic, saturated with sex or dripping with violence - is a collection of all human experience.

Therefore, any book a child chooses to read, if they are given the proper outlet for discussion with their parents or other adults, or even within their own peer groups, afterward, is worthy? All books teach us something about life, and trying to shelter children or young adults from reading about some things - which surely is far more tame than going out and actually trying all these different experiences for themselves, is the height of foolishness?

I suppose the other side to the argument is that reading about something forbidden could become some kind of "gateway drug", luring kids into trying something by making it sound terribly thrilling and wonderfully rebellious. Yes, there is that risk, but there is a risk to even the most mundane things in life. You could open your mouth to yawn and choke on a flying wasp, if you get my drift.

I guess I'm passionate about this issue because I don't believe that anything should be forbidden. At my deepest core, I'm a literary anarchist and like Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451, I think that all literature should be open to anyone.

Children might make unwise choices about their reading material, and get a few freaked out nights or get a little lippy for a while, but it's all part of growing up, surely?

Or perhaps you completely disagree with me, and think "it was a pleasure to burn"?

Do you think children should have their reading material monitored?

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