What do we think about controlling what our children read?

I know that many people would be grateful if their children just picked up a book. My brood contains both voracious readers and those for whom it’s a pleasant enough activity but far from a passion. At least they all read to some degree. But what do they pick?

I was at a tutorial earlier in the year and we were discussing which literary works should make it into the canon of English Literature. My tutor gave the example of Enid Blyton.  She had never read any as a child and dismissed the books in damning terms. I challenged this attitude. Having never read any how could she be in a position to have a view as to their merits? Also, if you judged which books made it into the canon based on the pleasure that they had given millions of children over nearly a hundred years then surely Enid Blyton should be there.

It turned out that my tutor had never read any Blyton not because she had made that decision for herself but because her father had banned it and refused to have it in the house. This made me cross. I spent hours lost in Enid Blyton’s imagination without judging the quality of the writing. I suspect I have emerged unscathed.

The idea of controlling a child’s reading material has arisen again recently as my 15 year old daughter asked to borrow my copy of “Fifty Shades of Grey.” Now my principles were really on the line. In my view the book is not the ideal bedtime reading for a teenager. Whilst I, as a mature and experienced woman, can pick and choose the messages that I wish to take from it, I can hardly expect my child to be as discerning.

“You can read it,” I said, “But you must remember that men like that are to be avoided and that you should never allow a man to do anything to you that makes you feel uncomfortable.”

Even to me I sounded ludicrous. She stared at me for a moment and then said, “I have no idea what you’re talking about. So can I borrow it or not?”!

She read for a morning. Then she forgot about it and moved on to something else before she got anywhere near the Red Room of Pain. Thank goodness I didn’t ban it I thought.

The only time I have not allowed a book was when my eldest was about 9 and wanted to read Jacqueline Wilson. I thought then that I should protect her from the stark world that Wilson paints in her novels, being, as it is, so far from the one she was growing up in. With hindsight, I suspect that decision was flawed and I’m not sure I would make the same one again. I have certainly allowed the others to read Wilson’s work.

In fact, I have found that my children are self regulating. In much the same way as ‘Fifty Shades” lies unfinished, they have also abandoned books that they consider too sad, too scary or which make them feel uncomfortable in some other way. Reading for leisure should be a pleasurable experience and my children have very clear ideas about what kind of story fits the bill. Perhaps they will come back to the ditched ones when they are more emotionally equipped to deal with them?

My opinion seems to have developed into allowing my children to read anything and everything that they choose (although I did hide the Louise Rennisons for a while when nothing else was being opened). After all, surely the more they learn from what they read the better they will be able to deal with life’s twists and turns? That said, I am currently reading A Beginner’s Guide to Satanism (it’s research) under the covers with a torch!