Recently there’s been a push by conservatives to ban certain children’s/young adult books from libraries and school libraries. And of course, the left is pushing right back, saying kids and teens need access to these books. If you haven’t heard of some of these books, you can read about the top ten most challenged books in this Washington Post article, which includes Gender Queer, The 1619 Project, And Tango Makes Three, and Out of Darkness.
Now, interestingly enough, there are some books the left does want to ban for their racist portrayals or usage of the N-word (To Kill a Mockingbird, Little House on the Prairie, and Huckleberry Finn just to name a few).
So it would seem that both sides favor book banning when said books go against their own views of morality. Who is going to win in the end? And does it really matter what the children are reading? Should we do away with book banning and let them read whatever they want so they’re exposed to a variety of viewpoints from a young age?
Typically I’m not in favor of book banning or censorship because I believe it goes against our First Amendment rights. But as an educator and one who cares about children and their development, I will argue that there should be limitations on what they read, especially when it involves sexually explicit material.
Kids are Impressionable, and the Power of Suggestion is Real
The very fact that the left and the right want to ban books reveals they both know how impressionable kids are. Kids are naturally trusting, and their worldviews are malleable. This is why the left is eager to give them LGBTQ books and movies from a young age, and why the right is eager to prevent that from happening.
One of my last years teaching at a public school, I had several fifth-grade girls read books featuring LGBTQ characters, and the very next year, the counselor mentioned that she had never seen so many girls coming to her saying they were bisexual. One side would argue they were always that way and reading those books encouraged them to be confident in coming out. But as someone who knows that age group all too well, I might argue back that the power of suggestion was strong in leading them in a direction they might not have otherwise gone.
From age 10 to 15, kids and teenagers are filled with confusing feelings, hormones, and questions. They also desperately want to fit in, gain approval, and find their place. Provide them with books that seem to answer those questions, and they will most likely want to act similarly to those characters.
On the other hand, the classics (and modern, well-written books) are filled with rich language and complex storylines that help our children develop numerous skills, reading and otherwise. But they also feature many characters who “come of age” and learn valuable lessons that shape their character and identity. This, in turn, helps our children shape their own character and identity.
Unfortunately, many of the “challenged” books feature characters filled with angst and confusion over their identity which will fuel similar feelings in their young readers. Kids and teens are already facing complicated emotions and hormones, and when they look for answers in the characters of their books, they find rather a glorification of such angst and then a turning away from God’s good design for sexuality.
If we go even younger, to toddlers up to fourth-graders, kids should have their innocence protected as much as possible. My friend, Katy Faust, writes excellent articles about how up to age 10, kids should be filled with as much truth and virtue as possible to build a solid foundation. At such a young age, they don’t need confusing messages thrown their way about choosing their gender or all the wide varieties of romantic relationships out there.
I’m going to go one step further and say that I don’t think they really need to be watching tons of Disney love stories at this age either. Instead of pushing romance as the most important thing to look forward to, they should be learning character traits, how to develop their imaginations, and how to do hands-on, creative things (for which I do admire such Disney movies as Moana, Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo, Inside Out, and The Incredibles). Let’s harness their impressionability in such a way that they grow up confident in their abilities and character – embracing who God made them to be – more than anything else.
Many of These Books are Far More Graphic than Proponents Will Admit
I appreciate the above Washington Post article because it states specific reasons why these books are being challenged and even includes excerpts from them. Some articles will simply state that they’re being challenged for sexual or graphic references, but I think it’s important to see the specifics of what’s showing up in these books.
No child or teenager needs to be reading about gang rape or graphic depictions of sex or sexual feelings. If you want to read erotic literature as an adult, that’s your choice, although I would characterize it more as pornography. But we have a responsibility to protect our children from things they’re not physically or mentally mature enough to handle. Research shows that early exposure to pornography can affect the way kids’ brains develop – in much the same way that a traumatic event can affect brain development.
Just as we have laws in place to protect children from molestation, we need to protect them from the kind of mental molestation that can take place from reading graphic depictions of sex in books.
So, What Should We Do About Banning the Books?
In the end, whose morality is going to win? Non-Christians are adamant about not having the morals of Christianity pushed on them. But everyone has some type of morality and value system, and they’re going to want that promoted somehow, some way in the culture.
The problem is that the type of value system that attacks the family and gender structure that God created in Genesis 1 will eventually erode society. A society that denies biological facts about gender and procreation will not be able to perpetuate itself.
This is why standing up for and fighting for the truth, especially as directed toward our most vulnerable—the children—is so important. God knew what would be best for the flourishing of families and individuals, and our kids need to learn that from a young age. That’s why I’m in favor of banning the books that speak otherwise to our children. God has given us a charge to teach them truth. And while truth is being hotly contested in our country right now, we know that we can stand solidly on where truth comes from – the Word of God.
May his Word give us the courage and wisdom to make the right steps moving forward in a confused society.
Photo by Erik Mclean on Unsplash.
4 thoughts on “It Does Matter What the Children are Reading”
Thank you for your reasoned (yet still passionate!) article. Much appreciate your input to this ongoing conversation! I’m in agreement with all your points and extremely saddened by the push to keep books with graphic sexual content on elementary/middle-school library shelves.
It deeply saddens me that we are extending the over-sexualization of our society to our children. While sexuality is a part of our lives, we (as a culture) have been telling (and showing!) our children that sexuality is a core part of our identity and thus of course children will be pondering all the ins-and-outs of sexual identity and practice far more than is necessary at a young impressionable age. I know I sound old-fashioned, but it makes me weep to consider the loss of innocence of so many. Innocence itself is a topic for another day, but I would argue that something as profound and beautiful as sexuality can coexist with innocence. Unfortunately, our culture’s gaudy and selfish approach to sexuality drains it of beauty and innocence both.
And after writing the above and feeling saddened anew, I feel the urge to go back and read some beautiful books, perhaps something by L.M. Montgomery or Madeleine L’Engle!
I agree, James – it saddens me greatly to think about the loss of innocence in our children these days. And I also agree that reading something by L.M. Montgomery is always a good idea to remind us of beauty and rich literature!
Lydia, thank you for speaking out on this important topic. You make all the right points.
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Thank you, Daniel!