Q: [Tween] I am thrilled with my tween wanting to read… but a little concerned about the maturity of some of her choices. As a parent, how much guidance or control should I have over her books — and how would I even know what was what? I don’t have time to read all of the books she is, and certain graphic scenes aren’t always something that pops up in a skim.
A: Congratulations on raising a reader! Reading can do wonders for the mind and soul. I don’t say that just because I’m a huge bookworm and an author of books for children and teens. Science backs me up. Reading helps improve vocabulary, spelling, grammar, and writing skills. It reduces stress and is a much more effective bedtime ritual than anything involving a screen. Reading makes people more empathetic and culturally aware. Last but not least, reading can be highly entertaining.
I’m a big proponent of guiding children and teens toward great books. I love to borrow or buy quality literature for my three children. I read aloud to my children until they were teens. It took just one chapter each of Holes and When You Reach Me before my tweens were hooked on these Newberry Medal winners.
However, I’m not so keen on controlling tweens’ book selections. Being told what books to read can turn reading into a chore. And the safest way for a tween to satisfy her curiosity about such things as drinking or making out may be to read about it. It’s certainly better than trying these things themselves. I also worry that decreeing a book to be off limits will make it more attractive to tweens. Also, I’d rather my children discuss mature subjects openly with me than read a forbidden book behind my back.
Many readers have shown me the benefits of my books. In my humorous young adult novel Storky, the protagonist adjusts to his parents’ divorce and gains self-confidence. But because he also faces challenges of puberty, some people consider the book inappropriate for tweens. Hundreds of fans have emailed me about Storky. Once reader wrote, “Storky got me through middle school.” Others said that Storky was the first book they ever read just for fun, and they went on to read many more books for fun. As Maya Angelou said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.”
Of course, whether you should restrict your tween’s reading material depends on your parenting style and your child’s maturity level. A good way to determine whether a book is appropriate for your tween is to look it up in the library’s online catalogue. Jane Greenwood, the Children’s Materials Evaluator for the Orange County Public Library, says that the library labels books for tweens mostly based on their content. A “U” stands for upper level, grades 7-9. A “T,” for teens, has more mature content for grades 10 and up. The labels are derived from books’ reviews in professional journals and information provided by the books’ publishers. The library also puts “Younger teens” or “Older teens” stickers on its books. Greenwood says that every family should make their own judgment calls. But in her opinion, “Everything’s okay as long as they’re reading.”
Other good ways to find “clean reads” are to ask your local librarian for recommendations, read book reviews on www.commonsensemedia.org/book-reviews, or look at suggestions at www.thriftyandthriving.com/clean-books-for-teens-girls/ Good luck and happy reading!
Debra Garfinkle, AKA D.L. Green, is a mother of three and the author of 27 books for teens and children, including the Zeke Meeks and Silver Pony Ranch series. Visit her at www.DebraLGreen.com