Recently I reviewed How To Lead A Life Of Crime by Kirsten Miller, for which I slapped on this content warning:
This book may be unsuitable for people under 17 years of age due to its use of sexual content, drug and alcohol use, and/or violence.
Looking back on my own childhood, I doubt my mother would have been all too excited if I had been 14 when I read it. She would have worried about age-appropriate content. When it came to movies, she especially made sure my sister and I didn’t watch any that were restricted from our age. Even if my father decided that a movie was too strictly rated and allowed us to watch those DVDs with him at home, my mother protested. For books though, my parents let me read whatever I wanted. Sometimes they even pushed books into my hands which would make me blush today. The point is, I was too young to fully understand what some of these things meant, so it didn’t pose much of a problem anyway. Movies are visual media, so things a child previously did not know suddenly is thrust right into their faces. Plus, if a book was too difficult to understand, I usually didn’t make it past the first chapter.
Yet I am concerned about the increasing sexual content and coarse language in YA books. I’ve been reading them since I was 12, so I must say I definitely noticed an increasing trend over the past ten over years. The justification that this is how teens talk is a ridiculous one to me as well. Maybe I’ve been leading a pretty sheltered life but sometimes I feel that these things are included to perceivably up the entertainment value more than to add to the richness or realness of the character representations. Sure, I’ve had schoolmates as a teen who punctuated their sentences with “f***” and many profanities that were not only in English but also in the various other languages that they could speak. Still, most of them didn’t. Exposing teens to such material in a manner that makes it look normal does subconsciously tell them that it’s okay. And that is something I that makes me wary.
On the other hand, alcoholism, drug abuse, violence, sex and such are also realities for many teens out there. Not including these in books would also be wrong. Pretending that the world is perfect is a futile exercise and also, I believe, more damaging if children are led to believe that these things do not exist.
Because I largely review largely YA books, I’ve been thinking about my responsibility to add content warnings. These things are very much culturally bound and also depend a lot on children’s upbringing and environments. What may be alright today for most, might have been taboo 30 years ago. Based on experience, I’d say Europeans are more open to these than Americans are who in turn are more liberal than Asians. Of course, there also the matter of religion, personal principles and what-not.
In the end I decided that trying to determine if content warnings are in order is a one-way trip to a very slippery slope. I don’t want to be responsible for what kids read. Parents should be in charge of that. Not me. I don’t know these kids. I did not set up this blog to tell parents what all these books contain to help them make their jobs easier either. There are other dedicated blogs for that. Nonetheless, I may exercise some discretion and still include these for books were I do feel a line has to be drawn. Should that happen, I will include a line or two explaining why.
How do you feel about the inclusion of content warnings on YA books? Should they or should they not be included in reviews?