Restricted Reading

Is it ever okay to limit kids’ access to books?

Restricted Reading

I signed a form recently for my middle-school son from the media center at his school. This form, which I signed without hesitation, gave the media teacher permission to allow my 11-year-old to select books from the young-adult section. Whether or not my son qualifies as a “young adult” is certainly up for debate.

That said, I found it a little bit strange that a library was requesting my permission to allow my son to access and read books — though I’ve always been shocked at the things by which people manage to become offended.

It should come as no surprise, I guess, that there are parents who prevent their middle-school children from wandering willy-nilly down the aisles of a curated school library, fingers tracing spines of unfamiliar titles, and eyes and minds free to investigate whatever might catch their attention.

Imagine the potential consequences, after all!

I wasn’t an especially introverted child, but some of my very best memories are of books, and especially of time spent free in our local library, delving into sections outside the board books and designated children’s sections.

Allowed to choose whatever I liked for the most part, I read about animals, botany, history, and even witchcraft and magic (though it turned out I was no good at either), but most of my time was spent on fiction. Through my unfettered exploration of books, I built a worldview that allowed for all kinds of other opinions and ideas to exist beside the belief system I held, the one I was taught at home.

My literary considerations didn’t impede my parents’ ability to influence my thinking or to guide me into values we shared as a family — if anything, my reading allowed me to better understand why we held those beliefs and how they fit into a bigger universe of ideas.

I do think there is a place for parental guidance, and the irony of my son being allowed to read whatever he likes at school is that the rules are different at home. Though I doubt very much that they’d really enjoy the romantic storylines in the books I write anyway, neither of my sons is currently allowed to read Delancey Stewart books — at least not all of them.

Maybe I’m a hypocrite, but sex is the one thing I’d rather not have my sons explore in graphic detail for a while yet. I don’t mind if they read a book that touches on a sexual encounter, but I’m not comfortable with them exploring graphic details just yet, and maybe that thinking — coupled with their stated interest in reading my books — is what’s led me to begin writing a different flavor of romance that doesn’t include any open-door sex scenes at all.

When the time is right, and if they actually want to read character-driven, emotion-filled stories about real life (which seems unlikely given my oldest’s devotion to zombies and dystopian thrillers, and my youngest’s dedicated revisiting of all the Harry Potter books), I look forward to giving them permission.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to encourage my boys to read what interests them without blocking ideas that don’t match my own. In a world where I watch kids (including mine) replace books, outdoor time, and actual socializing with phones, tablets, and computer screens, I think we need all the enticements we can offer to tempt our kids to engage and explore, to find that there is a whole world outside their door.

And nothing makes me happier than to see one of my little guys curled up in a cozy chair with a book.

Delancey Stewart is the award-winning author of numerous contemporary romance and chick-lit novels. A former travel writer, personal trainer, and wine-seller, she's happy to have finally discovered what she wants to be when she grows up. Stewart has held a board position with the DC Chapter of Romance Writers of America, and founded the St. Mary's County Chapter of the Maryland Writer's Association. She lives with her husband and two sons in Southern Maryland, where she spends her non-writing time kayaking, socializing, and finding her next favorite wine.

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