Well, it’s National Banned Books Week, a week that celebrates our freedom to read and to access ideas that we all should have a right to. I checked out a few lists of the most commonly banned books, and frankly all except for Fifty Shades of Grey (kidding) leave me shaking my head, or maybe my inability to comprehend the need for censorship reflects my own lack of open-mindedness?
Among the books that have appeared on banned lists are To Kill a Mockingbird, The Harry Potter series, The Bluest Eye, The Diary of Anne Frank, even Charlotte’s Web! Thoughtful, provocative books reflect life and its realities, and opening ourselves to them makes us more compassionate, less ignorant and hopefully less prejudiced. I can’t imagine telling someone what he or she can and cannot learn. I can’t imagine trying to raise a humane child by preventing him/her access to different ideas.
As a mother I’m fairly liberal, and I draw (an ever adjustable) line only if I feel my child is not yet ready for certain material. I started talking to my son about race and racism when he was four, homosexuality and homophobia when he was seven, and terrorism around the same time. Now, it’s not like I have an agenda and I’m intentionally infiltrating his pliable mind with all these issues, but these topics come up naturally in conversation or when we have the television on, and while I’ll of course adjust the depth and language accordingly, I don’t shy away from answering Fred’s questions, the way my mother used to, dangling the “I’ll tell you when you’re older” carrot. When my then-six-year-old asked me specifically out of just which part of my body he exited, I told him matter-of-factly and even pointed (in the general vicinity; I do have some level of modesty ;-)).
Of course, these open discussions are a bit easier when we have some control over them. Things get trickier when the kids enter school, and suddenly they’re hearing about mass shootings from other people first, or their friends are introducing them to rap music, which is what happened with us at the beginning of this school year.
“Mommy, I’ll give you $2 if you help me buy these two AWESOME songs!” (My Fred is now nine.)
I was ready to just mindlessly hop onto iTunes and get the songs for him when I suppose maternal instinct kicked in and I decided to google the lyrics first. Rap is unmapped territory for me, though at that point I had some vague idea that some, but not all, rap music was explicit. So I found the lyrics and, sure enough, the two songs my nine-year-old wanted happened to be explicit. I don’t remember the exact words but I do remember “my cock” in the very first line, and more choice words following. The second song was something with Britney Spears featuring a somebody or other who would jump in every few lines calling her “B*tch.”
Ms. Liberal Mom minded, finally. And Fred being Fred, I knew he was going to press me for a reason, especially seeing as I had just said “yes” a few minutes before.
Having to say no led me to try to understand when and why I draw the line and when and why I believe something is acceptable, even right, to censor. It is hard, though, when the reason is something that you feel, rather than something that you know. Why do I not want him listening to this music? Because he’s nine and because I don’t want him listening to a litany of cock, f*ck, and sh*t at this age. B*tch is a little easier. It’s misogyny.
But Mommy, I’m not stupid. I already know a lot of cuss words, but it’s not like I ever go around using them.
I know. I know that he knows right from wrong. I know he’s got a will of steel, as I have seen him stand up to his father and me as well as withstand boy herd mentality.
Don’t you trust me?
We do. But I told him it wasn’t about trust. What I didn’t want was for him, at nine, to enter a world that is no place for a child. Even if he won’t be using the words, I don’t want him getting so used to hearing women being called “b*tch” that it almost becomes normal, and I don’t want him mindlessly regurgitating words whose concepts he hasn’t the faintest idea about. He will get to all of that eventually – the strong emotions, the sex – and at some point in the not distant future, I will be entrusting him to make more and more of his own decisions. But he is not there yet. Surely there are other rap songs that are less…inappropriate.
He was disappointed but in the end he understood. He told me that there are “clean” versions of those songs available and he showed me how to find them. He said that he just liked the way the music sounded.
What are your thoughts on censorship? Have your parents and/or teachers ever tried to forbid you from certain books or music? If you have older children, how do you deal with all this??