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.