Over Rated?

Last week, I was participating in a group chat on Agent Query Connect (discussing the recently hot topic of whether or not to use swear words in YA), when the subject of rating books came up. I have privately considered this notion before, and was surprised when several people expressed concern, referring to the idea as “a slippery slope.”

In the early 1930’s, when my father was young, there was no movie rating system to regulate what children watched. Since kids piled into the theaters on Saturdays for the matinees, my grandmother and several concerned friends happened to become involved with the Motion Picture Association, and were instrumental in persuading the movie industry to develop the rating system that still exists (although in a somewhat modified form) today.

What would be wrong with doing the same thing with books? At the very least, rating books would be a handy way for parents to monitor/supervise what their kids are reading. Most of the books being read these days have not been previously published, and parents are frequently unfamiliar with the content. As a result, children of all ages are left to discern for themselves what is, or is not, appropriate.

In bookstores or at the library, kids could have some sort of parent-authorized card with a photo ID and a magnetic strip indicating their approval level, sort of like a V-chip. A parent could approve his/her child’s card up to a certain rank, and then require special permission for anything more mature.

Ratings could be like G-5, G-8, G-12, etc., with PG added to anything that didn’t meet the G criteria (swearing, sexually suggestive – or more than suggestive – etc.). For example, Harry Potter might be ranked G-10, Rats! by Paul Zindel could be PG-13 (due to grossly disturbing content!), the Twilight series could be PG-14, and more mature selections could be R-17, etc.

Parents who wanted to opt out of regulating their children’s reading, could just program the cards for “adult.” It could even be incorporated into ordering books online. Parents could enter an authorization code, sort of like a password, for books higher than their child’s approved level.

The jacket flap could cite the specifics as to why each book had achieved it’s rating, like “language,” “some nudity,” etc., just like on the DVD covers of movies.

I know that kids would be opposed to this idea, but, frankly, so what? To me that is like letting sixeen-year-olds decide whether to lower the legal drinking age. This opinion is coming from a person who read Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight in ninth grade, during a church youth group trip to Maine. My mother would have flipped if she’d known I was reading that. And, truthfully, although it was certainly an absorbing read, I didn’t think that I was mature enough to be reading it, at the time.

If you have an opposing view, I would like to know it, because I just can’t see why the idea of rating books is any worse than rating movies, which parents have traditionally welcomed.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Over Rated?

  1. I’m not a fan of the rating system. In video games and movies it encourages the kids to play/want the more intense games. It becomes a contest to see who can wheedle their parents into letting them play the most mature games.

    In my class of 10 and 11 year olds there aren’t any who haven’t played teen-rated video games and very few who haven’t played mature.

    Books are different, in my opinion. I’ve been teaching for a long time, and kids regulate books themselves. If the book is too difficult for them, they don’t put in the effort required to read it. It’s not the same as watching tv – it’s too hard to read stuff beyond their skill.

    Kids who are capable of reading the more difficult works (with the more mature concepts) are always able to handle it as well.

    I have over 1200 novels in my classroom (huge variety ranging into YA and adult works) I’ve never seen a need for a rating system. Kids self monitor well 🙂

    • Susan Gainous

      You are entitled to your opinion. However I totally disagree. Children do not self regulate. I used to read trashy romance novels in sixth grade. We’re not talking Sweet Valley High either. I read whatever I could get my hands on. I was an advanced reader and could comprehend just about anything I picked up. My sisters were several years older than I and were reading books that were totally inappropriate for me to read. I grabbed up their books as soon as they had finished with them.

      I think a lot of parents would be relieved to have a ratings system. My sister in law last summer was going to let her fourth grader read the Twilight series. She had no clue that it was for teenage readers and that there was sexual content.
      I always try to read books that my son is going to read before he does so that we can discuss it. I started doing this because when my son was in third grade I bought a book with a puppy on the cover that was supposed to be about a boy who saves a dog. We started to read it together at bedtime but in the first chapter there was a graphic scene where the boy was severely beaten by bullies. My son got really upset by this and we stopped reading the book. I wish I would have known and I wouldn’t have wasted my money. If there had been a rating system I could have chosen something that didn’t give my son nightmares.

      The Twilight books are a very easy read Also the romance novels that I read were not particularly advanced either. Your assumption that books that are too inapproprate for kids are too advanced for them to read is simply not accurate.

  2. As much as I am staunchly opposed to any form of censorship and do fear the “slippery slope,” I have to admit that your point of view on this issue has merit. Every fiber of my being wants to conjure a reasonable argument against your rating system; however, I am unable to do so out of any motive beyond spite and a lifelong love for the subversive and iconoclastic. Even so, I’ll stand behind my visceral and intuitive dislike for any establishment “rating” of art and quote Green Day’s Billy Joe from the song “Warning”: “better homes and safety-sealed communities? / Did you remember to pay the utility? / Caution: police line: you’d better not cross / Is it the cop or am I the one that’s / really dangerous? / Sanitation, Expiration date, Question Everything / Or shut up and be the victim of authority

  3. Layinda,

    This is a such a provacative question and an important one to pose. Obviously it is a hot button for emotions as well.

    I think, as always, that it is a parent’s responsibility to censor their children in what they read, eat, watch, play and who they hang out with. On one hand, rating systems are cop-outs for lazy parenting.

    When we are too tired to monitor our kids, we allow systems to do it for us. “You’re under 8, guess you can’t play that game. The government says.”

    What we should be saying is: “Honey, I don’t agree with the violence in that video game and I don’t feel it is appropriate for you to play. When you do, I notice you get angry more often and none of us likes that.”

    In addition, rating systems can have a blanket affect that in no way takes the actual children, families, life styles or communities into consideration.

    What is PG for some kids may be perfectly fine for others of the exact same age with vastly different backgrounds. And I worry about who defines what is appropriate for which ages. Is darn a swear word? How about stupid? It is in my house. So is “that sucks.” Yet I doubt either of these would make the rating system guidelines.

    A kiss. Isn’t that sexual content? Yet preschoolers chase each other around and kiss their friends. Kindergarteners “marry” and seventh graders hold hands. To some parents this may insinuate sexual relationships.

    And, graphic in your face scenes on the screen are vastly different than your brain picking through the written word. Kids who are not ready to understand sexual connotations will not catch them on the page. However, even the youngest viewer can pick up on a steamy kiss and know that somehow it is linked to babies. You can’t take back an explosive “F-bomb” once the lyric has been sung, yet a reader can skip it and the impact is not the same as hearing it.

    These are very different forms of media and require very different rules.

    As a general rule, I make it a practice to read what my kids read, watch the movies they want to watch and get to know the friends they want to hang out with.

    I also discuss heavily with them my reasons for liking and disliking the books, the movies, the games and the kids.

    Prohibiting things makes things desirable. Discussing them diffuses the power.

    Yet ultimately, it is the parents who need to take responsibility. I’m tired of a world where we blame our woes on everyone else. In my line of work, I hear far too often, “If she hadn’t seen XYZ movie, she wouldn’t be pregnant now.” When in reality, Mom’s real life example is far more promiscuous than what is on the screen.

    I am a firm advocate of education, not censure. But I also understand all the points of view presented and in a lot of ways each makes sense. If only we lived in a perfect world…

    Thanks for this~ Cat

  4. Great post!

    I would like a rating system that is really basic, like if it has the F-bomb, then yea, that’s too much swearing for my kids. And while some romantic tension is great, in my view, having a blatant blowjob scene is inappropriate for junior high kids.

    Some parents would follow the ratings, and others wouldn’t–just like happens with the movie ratings now. The favorite movie in my mom’s second grade classroom is “Chucky”…the horror movie with all the blood and guts. It blows me away that these kids have even seen that show.

    I’m not poromoting censorship, but rather a guide that busy parents can fall back on if they don’t have the time to read every single book that falls into their kids’ hands.

    I read tons–everyday–but I’ve got 5 kids; that’s a lot to keep up with.

    Thanks for sharing!

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