When is it OK for kids to read YA books about rape or incest?

I just posted on the excellent Graceling trilogy and added that I would not let my 10 year old read it because of the rape and incest. I suggested 15 might be a good age. Then I went back and edited, remembering the rape and incest, while central to Bitterblue, is only implied near the end of Graceling. It’s not in Fire. So then, I thought maybe 12 years old for the first two and 15 for Bitterblue? And then, it occurred to me that rape and incest happens to kids all the time. In that case, reading about it in this context would be helpful. How ironic to censor something in a book that describes what’s happening in a kid’s real life. So, then I concluded, it’s such an individual choice. With sex, I didn’t want my kids reading about it or seeing movies that referenced it, before I had “the talk.” I wanted them to learn about sex from me first, rather than from a kid at school or from a movie. I had the conversation with my daughter last Spring, when she was nine. It went really well, and since, she’s come to me with questions, and she seems comfortable talking about it. But rape and incest, I’d like to protect her from the knowledge of a little longer.

gracelingtrilogy

I did a Google search, remembering something I’d read on dark YA lit a while ago that was good. Here’s a quote from the post and the link.

The underlying assumptions behind Gurdon’s piece seem to be rooted in the idea that children read books with heavy content and ‘go bad,’ when in fact the opposite is true. Some children lead dark lives and they read books with intense themes to find protagonists they identify with in an often hostile world. Some young adults read about rape and bullying and violence, eating disorders and self harm and mental illness, because these are things they experience.

Alas, the belief that bad things do not happen to children and young adults is not limited to naïve Wall Street Journal columnists, and it does far more damage than mere dubiously-sourced articles that attract a storm of commentary. The belief that childhood is a happy place, where bad things don’t happen, where you don’t need rose-tinted spectacles because everything is already rose-tinted, has direct and harmful impacts on children and young adults in danger.

 

I don’t think my child would “go bad” from reading about this stuff. Nor do I think if a child is into these books, that means she’s leading a “dark” life. I think, and I could be wrong, if my ten year old daughter picked up Bitterblue, she’d read it cover to cover.

Also, for my kids, I do believe childhood is a pretty happy place for them and should be protected as such. Obviously, that doesn’t mean Disneyworld to me. I think Disneyworld is tremendously warped. But it does mean I want my kids to experience the belief in safety and also in magic. I believe that covering up “reality” to protect a child’s developing imagination is an important part of parenting and also, of being a kid. If your child has safe boundaries, she feels brave enough to take healthy risks. Psychologist Stephen Mitchell explains this well in his excellent book, Can Love Last: the Fate of Romance Over Time:

One of the things good parents provide for their children is a partially illusory, elaborately constructed atmosphere of  safety, to allow for the establishment of “secure attachment.” Good-enough parents, to use D. W. Winnicott’s term, do not talk with young children about their own terrors, worries, and doubts. They construct a sense of buffered permanence, in which the child can discover and explore without any impinging vigilance, her own mind, her creativity, her joy in living. The terrible destructiveness of child abuse lies not just in trauma of what happens but also the tragic loss of what is not provided– protected space for psychological growth.

It is crucial that the child does not become aware of how labor intensive that protracted space is, of the enormous amount of parental activity going on behind the scenes.

What are your thoughts on all this?

Update: Heather comments that her 8 year old daughter learned about rape and incest when a classmate brought porn to school.

Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse.  Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information…I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.

 

Heather’s comment make me think that if your child knows about rape or incest, these books are appropriate for her or him. (I really hope parents of sons will get their kids this trilogy.)

7 thoughts on “When is it OK for kids to read YA books about rape or incest?

  1. “Some children lead dark lives and they read books with intense themes to find protagonists they identify with in an often hostile world. Some young adults read about rape and bullying and violence, eating disorders and self harm and mental illness, because these are things they experience.”
    I think that this is absolutely right. My parents are amazing people and I have never been abused in any way but there is other people in my family that are, let’s say, not so amazing. I have seen since I was a child the effects of alcoholism and some of the behaviour associated (and some due to the fact that some people are just jerks). Every time I see some story with a father or a mother abusing or neglecting their child, that ends with a happy ending with the parents reforming and the child forgiving them because “family is important” it drives me nuts and I think about how many children that are abused feel guilty and think that they have to support their families and cover what that people are doing just because they are family.
    Children live in a world where bullying has not always a happy ending and you can’t be friends with a bully just by being kind, where people destroy their lives with alcohol and other sustances and where people die. Some of them are going to see that from pretty close, some of them are going to talk with other children that have that kind of experiences and others are going see something about it in TV, or magazines or internet because you can’t control everything that your child see or hear 24/7. I even remember hearing some conversations between adults (or teenagers, really) about casual sex when I was a child because they thought that I was too young to understand anything about that, anyway. It’s better if somebody talk to you about that kind of things than if you have to try and understand that by yourself.
    I like this post in the blog of John Scalzi:
    http://whatever.scalzi.com/2013/04/11/reader-request-week-2013-7-books-and-my-kid/
    Cecilia asks:

    Have you taken a book away from Athena? What guides your parental choices on book selection for reading.

    When Athena was an infant I would take books away from her so they would not be unduly chewed upon. Otherwise, no. The rule of thumb in the Scalzi household has always been that if you can reach it, you can read it, and we don’t have very many books in the house that can’t be reached, frankly. The rule also comes with the offer that Athena can come to us to discuss anything she reads, particularly if it confuses or upsets her.

    • Hi Abnoba,

      I get your point and that is how I grew up– I could read anything and watch anything. There are some benefits of that, I was super well read, learned a lot, and felt comfortable in lots of worlds but I was also freaked out. I remember watching Taxi Driver and Cat People (with Natassjia Kinski) and 10 (with Bo Derek) and being disturbed. My parents took me to Shakespeare festivals and plays like Ghosts and Miss Julie. I want my kids to have a more of childy childhood. I would like my kids to be more protected from intense adult issues for a while longer. Also, I want to protect them, while their brains are growing rapidly, from the saturation of weak females in lit and movies by helping them make choices about what they read/ see. Thanks for the links, I’ll check them out.

      Margot

      • I can understand how you feel. I have a 8 years old niece, and she likes to read with me when she visits us, but I think that she just likes to do something with me, and she didn’t really like the books I showed her at first, maybe because they were too difficult (children books, but maybe not the right books). Some months ago I tried with comics books, because I thought that shorter texts and drawings would be better for her, and she loved them, she took some of them with her so she could read them at home, and now she takes two or three from my collection every two weeks. At first, I lent her those that I thought were better for her but now, she is starting to ask for what she want to read, and some of my comics are less than perfect in female representation (sexualization, only a few girls…). I would feel like a hypocryte forbiding her to read something because when I was a child I read whatever I wanted, but I know the effect that certain kind of stories have, specially if there are not other , more well balanced stories to compensate. I’m not sure what is the right answer.
        I think that how the book (or comic) talk about certain matters is important. Books for adults present sex, or violence without context, adults know that context, they don’t need the book to tell the what is the effect, how they affect to other people, but that is not always the case with children.
        This is not an easy question at all. I want my niece to be prepared, and to know about some things from the right source, and not some casual conversation or TV show, but of course I want her to be happy, a child. I want to protect her but I don’t want to overprotect her.
        I remember reading something that Terry Pratchett said about what can you talk to children about, but I can’t find it now, but I’ve found this other interview, where he talks about that for a bit
        http://bookwitch.wordpress.com/interviews/terry-pratchett-i-know-the-books-have-their-heart-in-the-right-place/

        • So complicated! It’s really why I started this blog. What you are doing is great– awareness, thinking about it, talking and watching and being open.

  2. Hi Heather,

    I bet this kind of thing that you describe happens more than we would like to admit. And yes, if my daughter knew about rape or incest, I would definitely give her these book, most likely regardless of her age, as long as she could read. Great points. Thanks for your comment.

    Margot

  3. I, too, think it is up to the individual child and individual parent(s). My daughter is 9 and I have had the talk with her, in great detail. She came home from school last year (a very well-reputed school in a great neighborhood, mind you (this is not a topic that pertains to socioeconomics like so many people want to believe)) asking me about pornography because another child — classmate — had brought a DS to school that had Internet access, and he was showing other students X-rated websites. This was THIRD grade.

    I was, needless to say, horrified. (I also had to alert the school where they took matters into their own hands.) Based on the brief snippets of content she saw, I had to not only have “the talk”, but also explain a LOT of things I never thought I’d have to address at that age. Because of this, conversely, she is now very educated on both sex, misogyny, and rape/assault/child abuse. Therefore, I think these books that are written about very serious issues — but in the comprehension style of a young person who can find the characters identifiable — is a great source of information. It’s sad we *have* to feel that way and think that way at such a young age, but we cannot fight the reality (only fight FOR it). We must make sure our children are safe, and by doing so, we sometimes I have give the awareness of the horrors that, so agonizingly, exist.

    I have not read these books to endorse them, but now I am interested and will be checking them out at the library. Thank you.

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