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Sunday, September 30, 2012

My response to proposals for YA book ratings

Several months ago, the Wall Street Journal ran an op-ed piece concerned about "dirty" YA books. Periodically, there is a push for some kind of ratings system, as with movie (and we all know how well that has worked.)

Most of the comments address the practicality of a rating system yet there are several assumptions behind any rating systems that bear challenging:

1. That all individuals of a certain age respond similarly to the same stimuli;

2. That content that is offensive is harmful; and

3. That we all agree which content is harmful, i.e. sex=violence=bad words in its effect.

I suggest that each of these assumptions upon which the desire for a ratings system rests is false. My rationale for each.

1. The YA category should never have been created in the first place. YA creates a false impression of “safety” even though the age group considered YA covers vastly differing ages. There is a huge difference in maturity between a 14-year-old and a 17-year-old under the best of circumstances, yet there are some very immature 20-year-olds. YA assumes a monolithic set of assumptions about a very diverse group.

2. Does reading the f-word cause harm? (Is anyone really fooled by using f**k instead of, well, you know.) Does reading about an abortion cause harm? Does reading about a shooting cause harm? There is no evidence that it does. Are these things offensive? Perhaps, but the decision to be offended rests with each individual. I may decide not to be offended by something you consider terribly offensive. Your desire to suppress, categorize, or limit what *I* want to read or what *I* want my children to read is simply not your right.

3. Most of the ratings systems seem aimed at “foul” language and/or sex with little attention being paid to violence. That reflects a particular religious preference and you certainly have every right to control what your own children read but you should be involved with their learning anyway and stop trying to coerce others into adopting your own value system. Each parent has the responsibility to oversee his/her children’s moral development, but freaking out if your child is exposed to an antithetical value provides a learning opportunity, not one for suppression.

Cross posted in the comments at

Original Wall Street Journal piece at

Another good response at
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