During my extended venture into YA territory, I’ve noticed how many obscenities, profanities, and sexual situations are present in books marketed to the age 9+ demographic. I must concur with this article in TIME magazine that many YA novels would be rated R if they were movies instead of books.
Brigham Young University professor Sarah Coyne and her colleagues analyzed profanity use in 40 teen novels on the New York Times’ best-seller list of children’s books published in 2008. All the books reviewed targeted children age 9 or older…
The researchers found that on average, teen novels contain 38 instances of profanity, which translates to nearly seven curse words per hour of reading. Of the 40 books in the study, 88% contained at least one “bad word.”
It isn’t just the presence of foul language that I find objectionable, but the characters doing all the cussing are often “young, rich, attractive and of high social status.”
I believe children’s/YA authors need to take their responsibility to their audience more seriously. Publishing shouldn’t be reduced to making a name or making a buck. When children read, they quite naturally enter into the story, and internalize the messages and themes more deeply during these formative years. Books can shape us in ways that we often don’t understand or even realize until we are much older.
While it may be true-to-form for a chracter to be involved in immoral, unethical, or illegal conduct, we need to pay attention to whether or not these actions are dealt with responsibly. There are consequences that must follow actions, whether those acts are noble or criminal.
Sure- sometimes the bad guy doesn’t get caught, and sometimes the innocent suffer. But we should never encourage young people to admire the selfish, cruel, or vulgar behavior of a story’s protagonists or antagonists, nor should they be tempted to emulate those actions.
This doesn’t mean that authors must create cardboard characters with good guys wearing white hats and kissing puppies, or bad guys tricked out in black hats and black leather pants driving black sports cars (hmmmm, sounds kinda’ like Batman…). Good guys can be flawed, and bad guys can be likable. But in theme and tone, an author can direct the reader to certain conclusions.
The blame doesn’t just lie with authors, however. Parents need to be vigilant, reading reviews and pre-reading books for theme and content- and not just to prevent their young ‘uns from reading particular books, but as a way of being informed about what their kids are reading so that the messages conveyed can be discussed and faulty ideas corrected.
The bottom line- if you wouldn’t allow your child to watch the movie because of its objectionable content, don’t let them read the book either.