Sexual situations involving minors, vulgar language, murder, violence, drug use, rebellion against parental authority, suicide. What sort of rating would this work garner, and how can parents protect their children from such obscenity?
In case I slurred around the tongue firmly adhered to the lining of my cheek, the work in question is William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. I have recently read several online discussions regarding a trend toward a purportedly excessive use of realism in children’s and young adult literature.
Imagine a world with content advisories or ratings listed on the backs of middle grade and YA books:
The Outsiders, S.E. Hinton – gang violence, language;
A Ring of Endless Light, Madeline L’Engle – death, discussions of sexual situations, partial nudity;
From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, E.L. Konigsburg — runaway children, theft, nudity.
The list could continue ad infinitum. I recognize the concerns involved in the exposure of children to the grittier side of reality. I recognize that a time and place exists for discussions of death, sex, violence, substance abuse, etc. However, as a mother of three, I am painfully aware that we do not always get to choose the time and place for such discussions.
Our children dwell in an imperfect world. We cannot and should not protect them from the knowledge of the darker sides of life. Death and violence will confront them regardless of whether they have been prepared. As they enter adolescence, sexual feelings and confusion will swamp them despite our careful censorship of their media exposure. The drug dealer on the corner or in the schoolyard does not care that we prohibited the book depicting substance abuse.
My oldest child is a frighteningly precocious 10-year old. She reads at the level of a high school sophomore. Discussions of appropriate content are not an abstract argument in our household. At the deepest levels of maternal terror and concern, I want my children to never have to face the darkness of violence, loss, or addiction. I’d prefer also for them to exist in a sexual vacuum until they are well gone from my house. However, this choice is not mine. My husband and I have instead made the decision to discuss rather than censor content with our children.
Have media ratings lessened the problems of sexual promiscuity, violence, and substance abuse in children and teens? I have been unable to find any data that suggests that these instances have declined since 1968. Personally, I would prefer my children to watch a movie depicting intelligent themes that spark meaningful discussion, even if that film contains scenes of sex or violence, than to have them watch some of the blather that passes for children’s programming. Given the choice between showing them Joss Whedon’s Serenity and SpongeBob SquarePants, I’m going to stick with Joss. There may be moments in which I experience discomfort, but at least I won’t have to watch the gray matter ooze from my children’s ears.