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.
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.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
CBS11 news coverage on the issue.
I think that cell phones, at least iphones CAN’T be made into safe zones. Although apps or movie purchases can be controlled, the browser will let kids search for any kind of free video or story or picture set. And of course, that includes things that come up with what was intended as an innocent search. I am still appalled at what came up one time I searched for a new apron with safesearch ticked. Honestly. Phones are just minicomputers. And yes, guarding literature going into students’ heads is a vital issue that the school district should take a stronger stance on “doing no harm.”
We need a paradigm shift ~ WORLDLINESS IS NOT MATURITY! Whether I am 13 or 56, I do not need vile images in my mind. I’m perfectly mature, but pornography is not appropriate for my mind. Illicit material is not worthy of a mature OR immature mind. As someone accurately described, much of this “literature” is teen porn. The problem is this is “teacher sanctioned porn”. The student’s role model/authority figure is recommending these books. Teachers think they need to wise up our “overprotected” Park Cities kids, who they perceive are not prepared to face the big, bad world. That job belongs to parents…to protect and prepare. The teacher’s job is to introduce grand and inspiring ideals through “characters with character”. I was delighted to see so many HP parents weighing in, as people are often afraid of rocking the boat in our neighborhood, more concerned about what the neighbors think than what goes into their children’s minds. Bravo to the stellar parents who articulated their concerns with passion, logic and grace. Let’s pray this effort makes a difference.
I have a 7th grader who has big issues with impulsivity and will repeat any interesting word or phrase at the worst time (similar to 2 year olds). He has been getting in trouble at school for using “potty” languge. Come to find out that they have books in the classroom library full of this language (fiction humor books, not science books). Poor guy is expected to read this stuff, but not say this stuff. What a double standard.
I recently returned to the workforce as a shelver in a local library. I have been SO surprised at the themes, titles and art that today’s young adult books employ. In fact, I have had to check the spines of some books to ensure that the book is meant for the YA section!! Parents need to know that reading the summary on the back or inside the book’s jacket does not always give an accurate description of the theme. Websites such as http://www.commonsensemedia.org are excellent with assisting parents navigate books that are deceptively appropriate.