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Should You Care if Your Teen Wants to Read a Banned Book

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Banning books is not a new practice. Attempts to keep adolescents from reading material unsuitable for their age range have been around for over a century. Historians usually consider Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the first nationally banned book in the United States toward the end of the 1800s.

We’d like to think limiting access to literature is a thing of the past, something reserved for scenarios like those in famous science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451. But anyone who keeps an eye on the news knows that right now, groups around the country are attempting to hinder the circulation and availability of books in schools and public libraries.

While restricting an adult’s ability to read a book is questionable at best, the intent shifts slightly when it involves children and adolescents. School districts, bookstores, and libraries across the country face dozens of legal cases demanding the removal of controversial titles from their collections. Multiple states handled challenges against some books in the past several months.

Some regulations may be necessary when it concerns their children – most parents understand that.

But is banning books helpful?

Does it produce the intended result or create more interest in the restricted titles?

How should you approach the topic of book bans with your child?

Should you care if your teen wants to read a banned book?

Why Do Books Get Banned?

Banning some books from children may seem logical on the surface. Concerned parents fear their kids may stumble upon topics inappropriate for their age. That makes sense. It’s good parenting

However, when kids reach adolescence, preventing them from every book that includes sex, violence, and foul language isn’t helpful.

Determining whether materials are appropriate for children of different ages is subjective. Every parent has a different idea of when and how to discuss difficult topics with their kids. Parents shouldn’t have to broach subjects with their children if they aren’t ready to.

But are outright book bans the best tactic?

Why Banning Books Probably Doesn’t Work

Banning books probably doesn’t have the effect concerned parents hope for. They operate with justifiable regard for their children’s best interests. These parents hope that by removing controversial titles from public collections they will limit the spread of problematic ideas.

But shielding teens from knowledge is counterproductive. Adolescents seek novelty. Adolescents are driven to create an identity separate from their parents. Banning books slaps a giant “DO NOT TOUCH” sign over these titles, which is more likely to send a teenager to find them: they want to know what they’re not supposed to know.

That’s developmentally appropriate.

Additionally, removing these titles doesn’t remove the topics from real life. Shielding kids from the things that happen in the world does not make them disappear. Sure, some topics may not be age appropriate. However, book bans may not be the best way to keep kids from finding them.

In fact, it only decreases understanding and overall knowledge of the worlds as it is.

As young adult author Laurie Halse Anderson explained to the New York Times, “By attacking these books, by attacking the authors, by attacking the subject matter, what they are doing is removing the possibility for conversation. You are laying the groundwork for increasing bullying, disrespect, violence and attacks.”

The Benefits of Letting Your Kids Read Banned Books

There is nothing wrong with monitoring the content your teen consumes. This isn’t limited to television shows, movies, and social media. It includes books, too. You have the right to determine what is and isn’t appropriate for your child to watch, listen to, and read.

But is preventing your teen from reading banned books the right choice?

Allowing your child to read banned books doesn’t mean unrestricted access to every book on earth. There’s a balance between exposing them to difficult concepts and letting them loose in the adult section of the library. Banned books provide the perfect opportunity for you to connect with your child over these challenging experiences in life. There are plenty of benefits to reading banned books.

Consider the following:

Expose Your Child to New Ideas, Thoughts, And People

Books provide a way for people to experience things they wouldn’t otherwise see, hear, or feel. Some books on the banned books list can expose your child to valuable ideas, thoughts, and people. Reading titles that involve experiences outside of your ordinary life lets your kids learn new things.

Discuss Difficult Topics

It can be hard to approach complicated topics like sex, substance use, and mental health with your child. Letting your kids read books about challenging subjects allows you to open these conversations. Make yourself available to your teen as questions come up while they read and use them as an opportunity to expand their knowledge of the world.

Increase Empathy And Understanding

Reading banned books opens your child to new perspectives.. Giving them books about people and places they aren’t familiar with increases their empathy and understanding of different views.

Connect With Your Kids

It seems like it’s becoming harder and harder to connect with kids today. The more they retreat into the virtual world, the more challenging it is to engage with them in the real one. Reading books together is a great way to connect and share something with them

Create a small book club with you and your child or children. Let them pick the first book and start reading it together. Look up words they aren’t familiar with, talk about topics they don’t yet understand and use the experience as a way to connect with your kids.

Banned books don’t have to be the taboo topic they’ve become in recent months. You can reframe the entire topic into something beneficial. Letting your teen read banned books doesn’t mean giving them free rein, it means using them as a way to help your teen grow into the adult they’re meant to become.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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