Should YA Books be Content-Rated Like Movies and Video Games?

These comments were originally posted at Nathan Bransford's blog, in response to his question "You Tell Me: Should Children's Books be Content-Rated Like Movies and Video Games?"

As a high school teacher for over ten years, I inevitably have students come back and visit me after I have had them in class. They often tell me “This book changed my life.” That is a powerful statement. Yet that is how we all were at that age. We experienced life changing events on a regular basis in high school. First car, first kiss, first fist fight, first drink, first bouts of depression.

I teach mostly freshmen, ages 14 or 15-year-olds. What if the book that “changed his or her life” was denied that reader because it was rated for +16 and up? Or “R”? Books can show teens that there are alternatives out there, and that the world is wide. Do books save kids from suicide? Do books encourage sexual behavior? Studies show that this really is not the case. Yet, by being presented with the vicarious experiences that some students enjoy when reading YA “problem novels” they can make their own decisions which are based on the moral and ethical codes that they have been brought up with.

When was the last time someone said to you, “This video game (movie) changed my life!” The reading experience is much different than the viewing experience. When you are viewing something, you are watching someone else’s interpretation of events. When you are reading you are interpreting those events for yourself. There is a reason why most people believe that when a film is made from a book, it is a far inferior experience. It is not one's own. The caveat to this argument is that music albums have lyrics that are moving and meaningful and are sadly labeled.

There is no substitute for paying attention to what your kids are reading, watching, playing, and listening to. Parents are the gatekeepers for their own children, not some industry or government agency scapegoat. Allow the gate to remain open.