Age-Rating Literature

reading

Last night I sat in a meeting that left my stomach in knots. I even woke up with the topic on my mind, deeply concerned about an issue that faces all of us even if we don’t have kids in the mix. The topic: sexually graphic nature/mature themes in school-approved/required literature.

“Sex… profanity… rape. Those are just three of the controversial subjects many parents in the Highland Park Independent School District don’t want their children reading about in school.

When most of us were young, none of this was an issue. Not only in literature, but also on television and in the movies. I remember giggling and gasping with my siblings at Jane Russel proudly displaying the Playtex Cross Your Heart Bra in the 1970s. Playtex was the first to advertise undergarments on national television in 1955 and the first to show a woman wearing only a bra from the waist-up in a commercial in 1977. Such a display was culturally considered inappropriate.

When cable television made its way to my home-town in the 1980s, the City Council called for the citizens to weigh in on whether the service should be allowed. In order to address concerns regarding the graphic nature of increased viewing options, the cable company happily provided a parental lock box with a key. Homes could choose to literally lock channels inappropriate for the viewers in their home. We have the ability to do that even today through age-appropriateness parental settings. And in our home we use it. (Even our adult selves.)

Cell phones have added easy-to-use ratings based on content and age-appropriateness. If I desire, I can access restriction settings to limit content. Right now on my phone, the Apps are limited to 12+, television to “TV-14”, movies “PG-13”. And “Explicit” material is banned on music and podcasts. I’m happy to know that my 7 year-old, and even my teens, won’t stumble on something they don’t need to be seeing.

It gives all of us comfort to know that certain mature-themed material requires an extra step of accountability to be acquired. Let’s call a spade a spade and go in with eyes open.

We provide ratings in almost every venue. Movies, games, music, tv-shows, etc. are rated – for a reason. And despite the kid-push-back and the inevitable battles it produces (“It’s PG-13 and I’m 13! I can see it!), and the lure for kids to break the rules (I saw some busted just this weekend as an AMC employee pulled them out of an R-rated film), I am forever grateful for the help. And I tell my kids, we do this because you’re worth it.

Last night’s School Board Meeting made me realize that this issue is far larger than the classrooms in our little neighborhood. Books, including youth fiction, need to be rated. Youth fiction is a different landscape than the days of Beverly Cleary. Several parents read aloud selections, those digested and discussed in classrooms, that could only be described as pornographic. They choked as they forced their mouths to say words they would never speak in the presence of a child – regardless of age. And the thing about literature… it takes seeing to a new level, traveling to deep thinking and introspective contemplation.

So, Publishers please take a lesson from the MPAA, iTunes, the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board – shown below) and more. Age-rate books.

esrbratings

In August, David Cameron, Britain’s Prime Minister, did the same thing with music videos that we need to do with books:

From October, we’re going to help parents protect their children from some of the graphic content in online music videos by working with the British Board of Film Classification, Vevo and YouTube to pilot the age rating of these videos.

This is not about burning, banning or censoring. It is about rating the thematic nature of the material in order to guard impressionable minds.

As I sat in our School Board meeting last night, I looked around the room. The School Board itself is comprised of people who care enough about kids and their education to sacrifice a large chunk of their valuable time to the cause. Teachers and Administrators devote their lives to education. And, parents, who came out in force, fight for the protection of their children’s minds. Working together could be streamlined with a little help from the publishing industry.

Cameron said he has blocked his children from watching some content online. He said: “As for my own children I am sure there are times when they have been disappointed because they haven’t been able to do something or see something. But that is part of what being a parent is about – being able to deploy the use of the word no and sometimes even to deploy the off switch on the television, unpopular as that can sometimes be, and sometimes ineffectual because they find another screen somewhere to switch on.”

The framework has been set by other industries, publishers should must follow suit.

Thoughts?

Thanks for walking the road with me.

-Kay

Screen shot 2014-09-11 at 6.21.20 AM

CBS11 news coverage on the issue.

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