Taboo books, songs, and conversations, and kids

Photo credit: FreeSpeechDebate

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.”

Okay.

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??

10 thoughts on “Taboo books, songs, and conversations, and kids

  1. I grew up without my parents censoring my reading material (mostly). I think I learnt to respect that trust and did not seek out stuff that I knew would be unacceptable. But now that I’m slightly older, I wonder if some of the books that I read were too mature for me at the time. I don’t think any book/song has had a negative impact on me, but it was a risk, wasn’t it? I’m glad my parents trusted my judgement, but I wonder if I would be able to do the same for my children in the future.

    • I’m sure your parents must have trusted you for a reason. I read a lot of things that were “inappropriate” when I was younger (out of curiosity) but I think I was able to keep my values and behavior separate from what I read. I imagine your parents must have felt confident that you would too.

  2. What is wrong with Charlotte’s Web – loved that book as a kid! I think it is great you have an open dialogue with your child. My parents were not too sure about Stephen King and reading his books when I was a 13, 14, 15 year old – mainly due to cussing in certain books. Then BroCraves and his heavy metal choices just about caused WWIII in the house – ha! Great Topic – thanks so much for sharing – Happy Tuesday:)

      • That explains it I guess! I grew up on a farm and talked to animals all the time:)

        I think you will survive the teenage years if you just keep doing what you are doing in having open dialogue with each other, being there for each other through thick and thin, and everything out in the open (nothing you cannot tell each other).

        I am sure we gave our parents more good than bad in our teenage years.

  3. My parents never censored my reading or listening, although I think they were less-than-thrilled with thirteen-year-old Carolyn’s Hanson and Everclear cds (for different reasons). However, I wouldn’t let my son listen to misogynist/racist/homophobic music of any genre at 9 (or 10, or 11 . . . ). Suddenly I’m very glad that all I’m dealing with now is 5:00am wakeups and a Daniel Tiger obsession . . .

    • Haha, I know…I used to want my son to get older already and now I am missing those infant and toddler days. I’m just nervous about the tween and teen years…

      I am thinking that, like your parents, probably the best and only thing we can do is give our children their freedom (once they’re a little older) and trust though it doesn’t mean they’ll get our approval!

  4. My oldest is nine and I would have handled the situation exactly the same way. It is a hard issue . . . because the word “censorship” feels so ugly and those of us who are writer and life-long readers truly hate the work. That said, as a mom of four–NO, I don’t want my kids listening to certain lyrics. And yes, I guess that’s a form of censorship.

    • Yes, that’s exactly it. I think this – pre-tween – is an especially hard age. Once my son is a little older and assuming he shows maturity and independent thinking, I’m sure I will let go of the reins more. Thanks for the reassurance!

  5. This post brought me back to a memory of my own childhood. When I was 12, I won tickets to Madonna’s Like A Virgin Tour. My parents refused to let me go, citing mature lyrics and her overt sexual references. I did not understand their reasoning as a child, but I certainly get it now. That being said, I also do not let my daughter listen to certain songs – it appears though, more and more, that the songs with the catchiest beats contain the most inappropriate lyrics.

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