Trusting Your Young Readers

Being a parent can be daunting. There are so many decisions to be made from the second our kids are conceived, and it never lets up. At this very moment Cory and I are responsible for keeping 3 children alive. Faith is 11, Elliott will be 10 in 13 very short days (what?!), and Otto is 7.

I’ll never forget the relief I felt when we finally had 3 readers, not only because it meant schoolwork would get easier, but also because it now meant that we could share some of the most important things in our lives with them. Our books.

I pictured handing Faith my beloved copies of the Anne of Green Gables series and discussing our combined, undying love for Gilbert Blythe while having fancy tea parties. I just knew that Elliott would be too scared to sleep after hearing Boo Radley described as this monstrous thing with yellow teeth who stabbed his father in the leg with a pair of scissors, then a deep affection for the man he really was in the end. Otto would probably laugh til he couldn’t breathe while reading Pure Drivel with his daddy. Yay, bonding time!

Now, this isn’t meant to be a post about parenting advice, but whatever…you’re about to get some anyway. Cory and I hear frequently, “Your kids are so sweet”, or “Your kids are so well behaved, how do you do it?” My answer is always simple. We don’t treat them like kids, in the sense that most people treat kids like kids. They’re our equals. Most days I’d even argue the fact that they’re probably smarter than me anyhow.

This treat them like equals philosophy carries over into the media that they consume. Please understand that we don’t hand our kids DVD copies of “Oldboy” or “Saw” along with a bowl of popcorn before they go to bed. Faith won’t be picking up a copy of Outlander for at least another five years, and my beloved Dean Koontz will probably wait at least that long as well. Our copies of Saga are kept high on their shelf and the kids know those are off limits.

But beyond those titles that we know they’re not quite ready for, we let them make their own reading decisions. I still claim Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell as my favorite book. Common Sense Media will tell you that it’s best for ages 14 and up, however Faith was given a copy to read as soon as she turned 11 with one simple rule. If she thought it was too mature she was just to put it down and return to it again later when she felt ready.

This is where trusting your kids comes into play. Growing up I was allowed to watch two things. The Trinity Broadcasting Network aka Fundamentalist Brainwashing, or “The Lawrence Welk Show”. I’m serious. But the moment we got cable you’d better believe I was watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with the volume turned all the way down and my finger hovering over the last channel button in case Mom or Dad came barging in.

Kids are gonna do what kids are gonna do. And that’s even more true in today’s society where the internet is almost always at their fingertips at a moment’s notice.

We trust our kids, and they’re proven themselves worthy. More than once Faith has come back with a comic book or novel and said, “I don’t think I should read this.” It hasn’t happened with Elliott or Otto yet, because for now they’re happy re-reading the same issues of Teen Titans and Bone over and over again.

Being an avid reader with kids also means that I have to come to terms with the idea that they’re not going to love everything that I love. Faith still hasn’t finished Fangirl, and I’ve had to just accept the fact that maybe the lessons to be learned in it just aren’t ones she needs yet. Today however, she did read another story by Rainbow Rowell that she adored, and even created her own beautiful piece of fanart the second she finished it.

Limiting our kids and declaring this book as “too long”, or that one “too grown-up” isn’t helping, it’s hurting. Neil Gaiman once said that his childhood was spent in libraries, with every book at his disposal. No one policed what he could or couldn’t read, and thank everything that they didn’t, or we may not have the incredible worlds he’s created for us. And I don’t even want to consider that as a possibility.

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