Ethics and Morals

Blast from the Past: Parenting and Books

I will return to live-blogging tomorrow, but this essay finishes the mini series that began three days ago. 


Perversion: the alteration of something from its original course, meaning, or state to a distortion or corruption of what was first intended.


Morals: 1. a lesson, esp. one concerning what is right or prudent, that can be derived from a story, a piece of information, or an experience.

  1. a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.


Society: the aggregate of people living together in a more or less ordered community.


Every reader, if he has a strong mind, reads himself into the book, and amalgamates his thoughts with those of the author  — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe


“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.”

Mahatma Gandhi


Garbage in, garbage out. I sparked a controversy recently by questioning the validity of a book. No, not the truthfulness of a non-fiction book, but whether a work of fiction was worth having been published. We live in a societal time when the very doubting of a book’s appropriateness brings with it accusations of censorship and banning. The point I was trying to make, that a book advocating for incest was not one I wanted my young teen to read, was buried under a knee-jerk reaction to the fact that I had criticized a book. When in fact, what I was criticizing reached far deeper than that, into the core of the society that had birthed this intolerance. When did it become not only acceptable to allow our children free range of whatever they might want to read, but unacceptable for their parents to be involved in what they do and don’t read?


“But it’s for the children!” they cry out, “don’t you know that in order to survive in this world, teens must read about abuse, violence, and perversity so they can cope with it in their own lives?” Reality does not back this claim up, however. Michael Baizerman, in a critical review of a book titled  Adolescents at Risk: Prevalence and Prevention, points out acerbically “Most adolescents are not troubled, in trouble, or troubling. The metaphors of adolescence feed the cultural stereotype now rejected by scholars: Adolescence is not a crisis period for all youth or even at all times for some youth. Most youth are not at risk.” So why, then do these adults, many of whom are childless, see the need for fiction as a therapy tool? Why not allow loving parents to be involved in their children’s lives, talking to them about the problems that child (and yes, for the purposes of this article, adolescents are still children) may have encountered? Wouldn’t that dialogue be far more helpful than a distant adult who allows their child to read books that glorify casual sex, predator/prey relationships, and suicide? According to studies, bibliotherapy is a useful tool (as those of us who read voraciously have long known) but only in the context of affective bibliotherapy, where books that promote healthy coping behaviours are read and then discussed. Without that discussion, bibliotherapy is not effective for the young.


“But they are going to read it anyway.” and  “Heinlein wrote books with incest in them.” Yes, he did, but they were for an adult audience. And yes, a teen will likely encounter adult books, and their parents should be prepared to discuss very odd issues with them without being shocked and horrified. However, it is highly unlikely that those particular Heinlein books will be shelved in the children’s collection of a library, which is where my daughter found the book I objected to. Any parent who is worth their salt knows they will get awkward questions from children at any age, from ‘where do babies come from’ up to ‘what’s incest?’ and the trick here is to be prepared to stay calm, even if you aren’t ready for “that” question. The right response is never to lose your mind at your child. Which seems to be what these people think I was going to do with my daughter. The reality was me looking the book up on Amazon, and telling her quietly, “Yes, I think that book should go back to the library, I’m kind of glad you found it boring, honey.”  Michael Baizerman has backed my mother-instinct up, as he comments in an article “That is, this king of listening is part of a presence and being-present that invites, allows, supports, a deeper moment between two persons, and this is good – good human be-ing, good listening, good practice, and a necessary element in lived-helping, lived-caring, lived-hope: it is part of ‘healing’ – in the fully human sense.”


I’m not advocating banning, censoring, burning, or even removing these books from the shelves of my library. What I am questioning is why they are being written. We’ve seen a little of the justification of the children needing them to learn coping skills, and the reality is that not only is that a capricious statement, it is false, and the fantasies promulgated in this sort of fiction are harmful to a teen who is still developing mentally. In a study done on how adolescents use media to influence moods, the researchers point out that “During this period of intense media consumption, adolescents are developing ideas about who they are and how they should behave. Influenced by biological changes and social forces, youths are creating and reforming their self-identities and perceptions, their methods of self-expression and self-regulation, and their abstract thinking and judgement-making abilities” (Sad Kids, Sad Media? Applying Mood Management Theory to Depressed Adolescent’s use of Media) So then, do we really want to advocate that young adult fiction should glorify the moral traits we least want them to take on in their adult lives? That they should become perpetual victims, never learning courage, honor, and responsibility for their own actions?


We live in a society that has rejected the concept of morals, and instead chosen a paradoxical approach to child-rearing. While the TV and their books offer a seemingly never-ending stream of filth for their minds, we take away their choices to run and play with freedom. We submerge our children in concepts that relate to very few, until they are convinced that fantasy has become reality, and false memories of abuse become commonplace. Because of how our memory works, if we read something that evokes strong feelings in us, a study by C.J. Brainerd and V.F. Reyna points out that “when gist traces are especially strong, they can support high levels of phantom recollective experience for certain types of nonexperienced items – namely, items that are good cues for the gist of experience.” So it’s not ok for a child to play on a supervised playground with a ball, but it is ok to read books that may lead to them becoming convinced they suffered traumatic sexual abuse they have repressed?


It is my job as a mother, your job as a parent if you are one, or as an adult in a society that is losing the moral high ground not by attrition but by throwing children to the wolves “for their own good” to look at what the children are exposed to. I had no idea until very recently what was in young adult literature. To my relief, the majority of it is not soaked in sex and violence. To my dismay, many of the books taught in classrooms, forced on young readers, are unhealthy. Isn’t it time we resisted the idea that parenting is bad for our children? Just because when we raise our voices in protest against a book, we are bullied and shouted to silence, does not mean that giving in to the bullies will make them go away. Like our children in schools, we do not have to put up with bullying. We do not have to give up our children, just like our children do not have to give up their lunch money. We have voices, and we can express disapproval and moral values without being hateful. I will mother my children, not abdicate to the bullies.


Works referenced in this article are listed below, with links where I could give them. I use a variety of databases, some of which are not open to the general public. I wanted to make them available for you to draw your own conclusions from, for while this is not a scholarly attempt, I wrote it with a depth of research intended to found it in fact rather than in my own feelings, which are a shaky foundation that is responsible for much of the fallacious arguments for the moral downfall of our society. “But if it feels good, do it!” has been the cry since the 1960s, and the repercussions cause the tree of liberty to tremble to the roots, and the tyranny of hedonism and pure sensation may yet overcome us.


Sad Kids, Sad Media? Applying Mood Management Theory to Depressed Adolescent’s use of Media, Carpentier, et. al, Media Psychology, 2008.


Fuzzy-Trace Theory and False Memory, Brainerd and Reyna, Current Directions in Psychological Science, 2002.


The Formation of False Memories, Loftus and Pickrell, Psychiatric Annals 25, 1995.


Baizerman M. At Risk: A Reemergent Metaphor of Adolescence. Psychcritiques [serial online]. August 1992


Baizerman, M. (1999). It’s only “human nature”: revisiting the denaturalization of adolescence. Child & Youth Care Forum, 28(6), 437-448.


It’s wrong for Schools to be Banning Balls and Games at Recess, Caplan and Igel, Forbes, Oct. 8,  2013


Betzalel, N., & Shechtman, Z. (2010). Bibliotherapy Treatment for Children With Adjustment Difficulties: A Comparison of Affective and Cognitive Bibliotherapy. Journal Of Creativity In Mental Health, 5(4), 426-439. doi:10.1080/15401383.2010.527816


2 thoughts on “Blast from the Past: Parenting and Books

  1. Fortunately, in your case, the hand that rocked the cradle also opened the book (or, literally, clicked the link). And thereby continued to rule the world.
    I had a crappy English teacher in the 9th grade. We read Lord of the Flies, and Brave New World. I understood Lord of the Flies better than she did, because I was LIVING in a society of barbarians (which was high school). When we read Brave New World, I told her I didn’t see what was so bad about that society, and she SHRIEKED “There’s no God!” , a statement that had zero meaning for me, because at the time, there was no God in my life or family anyway. But Brave New World had lots of sex and drugs, and to my 14 year old self, that seemed like a really good idea to me. And so it was left at that, because the teacher had no teaching skills to engage me, and nobody at home was paying attention to anything but my grades.
    Hmm. Kenneth starts fifth grade next year. Memo to self: monitor his reading, not just his math.

    1. I talk to my kids often about what they are reading, and challenge them to explain to me why they liked (or didn’t like) the books they are consuming. There is a lot of reading out there. The books that are assigned reading are often chosen for capricious reasons, and sadly one of those is to promulgate the agendas of the teachers pushing the book, not for any literary value the book might have. Is it any wonder kids all expect novel = message fiction?

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