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:
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?