Should we have age certificates on books?

Last month, author GP Taylor sparked the debate about putting age certificates on books. You can catch up on the argument by reading an article written by the Guardian. The debate spiraled out of control on twitter and for the most part, I think it may have been misinterpreted.

From what I could see, GP Taylor was suggesting we need to put an “age-ranging system for children’s literature”, which doesn’t suggest anything about creating a law or enforcing strict rules like DVD’s (correct me if I’m wrong as I didn’t see the interview). Although I do wonder why there are double standards here.

My opinion: I would LOVE to see guidelines on the back of books (even now for myself), just like the rating systems you see on DVDs:

Violence: Low
Sex: Moderate
Language: Strong

I don’t want to be told what I can or can’t buy. That only makes me want it more, or not at all (I’m very stubborn). What I want is choice and to have that choice, I need information. I need to know what’s in a book to be able to decide for myself what I’m ready for. But I also do not want to be dictated to, no matter how much it may be in my best interest.

My reason: On holiday, when I was about thirteen, my Dad passed me a Crime book, which he hadn’t read yet. He had no idea what he was passing to me and I was completely shocked/disturbed by the graphic and violent sex scenes I read in it. Even to this day, I can remember those scenes long after the story itself had vanished from my memory. I can’t even remember the book’s name or author.

Someone on twitter asked me: Did you self-censor? No. I kept reading, because I had already committed myself to the mystery and wanted to find out the ending – no matter how disturbing it was to get there. Looking back, I know it wasn’t worth it.

So I don’t agree with Patrick Ness; children/teens/me are not great at self-censoring, especially if there is no guide to use. That’s the problem with words, you can’t un-read them. You can’t see what the author is going to say before they say it. I understand that children shouldn’t be sheltered from the harsh realities of life, but do they really need to see the all of the darkness of the world all at once? And who are you to sneak up on them and unveil it to them with no warning? It should be their choice.

By denying any type of information that allows for self-censorship, you are doing exactly what you didn’t want to do in the first place: you are telling children what they want to read, instead of letting them decide for themselves. Not every child is the same.

So what do you think? Should there be a guide or age certificate on books?

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13 thoughts on “Should we have age certificates on books?

  1. Excellent question! I agree with you about guidelines, or categorizing of some kind. You see, recently my mum was shopping in the supermarket, and there were too girls of around nine years old looking through Fifty Shades of Grey. I honestly thought my head would explode at the thought that two young children could pick up a book so graphic off the shelf with complete ease. You wouldn't see pornographic movies sitting low on the shelves in a store, so why should erotica books be any different?

  2. Anything that helps the reader make an informed choice, in terms of content and themes, has got to be a good thing. But I think age ratings are a tough call and will be based upon A N Others's view of what is suitable for a certain age. (And by the way who will pay for such a scheme?)No child wants to feel they're reading something below their age group and many parents won;t want to expose their children to something if they read that it's too old for them. Out of interest, what age do you think the Harry Potter books would be?

  3. Hmm…my vote is no. Only because some teens may become drawn to a book because of that reason! And with all the publications out there I think it would be impossible to moderate! For me, I read my first sexually charged crime novel in my early teens, and it definitely wasn't my first. I skipped past many YA novels and onto the grittier adult mystery novels early. I was always a voracious and enthusiastic reader, so that warning wouldn't have stopped me!

  4. I'd like to see authors and publishers taking responsbility for this. Just a note at the bottom of the back cover or inside the dust jacket saying whether there's anything that might be inappropriate for children. Not sure about age ratings as that's a bit subjective, but a little guide wouldn't hurt and could just be part of the book publication process.I think the Harry Potter books start out the right age group (8-12) and get progressively older. I think the readers got older with it though!

  5. I like the idea of some indicators on the back of a book, kind of like the green/orange/red markers on food to tell you whether it's high in salt or fat! Yes, some people may be drawn to high sex/violence etc, but at least those who'd rather not read such things would have a choice before they commit to buying. That goes for adults, teens, kids, whoever.

  6. Hi, just found my way to your blog, it's good to *meet* you Freya. What suits one 13 year old may not suit another for many reasons therefore I think a simple guidance rating on the reverse would be helpful especially to parents. Maybe something like you see on movies giving an idea of the level of violence, language, sex etc. Of course this won't mean someone can't read the book but at least they know what to expect.

  7. It's a hard one, I mean I agree there is certain things in books I wouldn't want my kids reading. In fact the truth is MG books are edited for content, YA is not. I try to read anything before I give it to my kids, but it may help to have guidelines. The question is who judges that and what is the cost of doing it.

  8. Derek: I think it's the responsibility of the publisher to advertise clearly. And I agree with Chloe on HP! : )Nicole: Some kids will be seeking these sort of books out – I think that will happen with whatever. The key is to give enough information to allow kids to choose instead of going in blindly.Chloe: I agree with you! : DRin: Yes! Good comparison with the food! I would like it for any books I read too.Emily: Me too!Suzanne: Nice to meet you too! Brandon: True. Good to see you read your books first, but it's difficult to do!

  9. I have started to notice these types of ratings on teen fiction books. For me, knowing the amount of violence and sex that the book has gives me all the more reason to read it! For parents, a rating might be useful. But I don’t think a curious child will take much notice.

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