Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Should Parents Censor What Their Kids Read?

Meditations of a Teenage Philosopher has always been a place where I can, frankly, do whatever the hell I want and see what people think of it. This is an experiment whose outcome I hope will be satisfactory. The following is an argument about censorship; if parents should censor what their children read, to be specific. After reading any (or all) of this argument, tell me...what do you think?

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Read Goodreads page here.
Read Shelfari page here.
Parents can try to protect their children in numerous ways. Some will insure that their child wears enough clothing to fight the cold, others will cut their child’s meat to fight the possibility of choking, others will leash their child to fight kidnappers, and others will control what their child reads to fight…what? What are they fighting? Bad stuff? Reality?  I would love to ask those parents if they realize that their children are in fact part of reality; that they, all too soon, will play its harsh game. And in order to play a game, to win a game, it helps to know the playing board as early as possible. Therefore, parents should not censor what their children read based on content they find offensive both because that offensive content is often times commonplace in the world and because said content can be thoroughly explained in literature, a convenient phenomenon considering that most parents feel uncomfortable talking about it. Furthermore, children who have been given the thorough explanation by literature will prove much more able to attain success in an utterly uncensored world compared to those who have not. 
To explore this national dilemma, let us focus on a piece of literature that is frequently on the “front lines”, so to speak-The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. According to the American Library Association, it is the third most banned book in the country.  This piece contains a freshman named Charlie struggling with the dilemma of passivity vs. passion –should he remain a wallflower and simply examine peoples’ lives from a distance, or actually live himself?  It also contains teenage pregnancy, profanity, heterosexual intercourse, homosexual intercourse, rape, drug abuse, domestic violence, suicide, and child molestation.  Cue the complaints board. 
In October 2009 at Roanoke, Virginia’s William Boyd High School, Perks passed from the hands of an English teacher to the son of John Davis. Davis saw his son reading the book voraciously and immediately examined it, only to find what he called quote-on-quote “offensive content.” He remarked how teens reading about those “offensive” activities portrayed in the book would, by nature, perform the “offensive” activities themselves.  Mr. Davis therefore took issue with the principal, who had the school board place it under review. Just last February, a similar situation happened in Clarkstown, New York when a group of parents petitioned the district to ban Chbosky’s book. Parents Aldo and Patti Devivo compiled a list of phrases they found offensive, including “One day CB got so drunk he tried to f- the host’s dog” and “what the f- Jesus.” Upon the latter, Aldo stated, “As a Christian, do we really need to take the Lord’s name in vain like that?” Well, yes, we do, Aldo, because most people (including some adolescents) are not as “Christian” as you are. They will use the Lord’s name in vain quite frequently. In fact, about half the people I am in daily contact with do so. Another parent stated how “The words in there are so disgusting. The ‘f’ word. Private organ parts. Sounds pornographic-not for English class.” Well, guess what? Not everyone has the clean mouth you do. Plus, you have a penis and your wife has a vagina; neither of those facts change while your child is in school.
Then there is Patti, who cried, “Why does the classroom really have to put a book with this kind of material in their hands?”
Well, I have an answer for you, Patti -because that “material” is reality. As previously stated, profanity is rampant in modern society. However, that is just the mildest. By their nineteenth birthday, 70% of American males and females have had sexual intercourse. There are 4 million homosexual people and 3 million child molestation victims in America. Each year, 750,000 American girls aged 15-19 get pregnant and 30,000 people commit suicide. The same can be said for other issues many parents find offensive, such as binge drinking or sexism-they are highly usual in this world.  Mr. Davis, it brings me great melancholy to tell you that most minors, including your daughter, discover these issues by observation or word of mouth, not books-how could they not with the issues’ prevalence? Many discoveries even take place at the elementary school level. I know that I, for example, first heard about “s-e-x” in the fourth grade. Thus, you can’t blame a novel if your daughter decides to get laid at a local motel.   

But the problem is that when minors discover these issues, at no matter what age, they do not receive sound understandings of them. Witnessing someone at their high school giving a mommy-rub or hearing about “s-e-x” at the fourth-grade lunch table doesn’t let them see the ridicule she faces while pregnant, or the carnal experience “s-e-x” entails. In most minor’s lives, parents are the only people we can trust to accurately describe these issues; yet, can many parents accurately describe the feelings associated with teenage pregnancy, or would they ever describe a sexual experience to their child? I do not think so. This is a need that reading can fill superbly. A minor reading about the pregnancy of Charlie’s teenage sister, how she wept uncontrollably, made Charlie drive her to the abortion clinic in secret, and lived every second under the fear of her parent’s discovery, will give them a much deeper understanding of the teenage pregnancy issue. A narrative of how Charlie lost his virginity would give them a deeper understanding of “s-e-x” as well.

Fast forward to the real, adult world-those minors, as adults, will both be in contact with people from all walks of life and endure many experiences. Whether a lover, business partner, or sibling, those people may be dealing with or have dealt with such offensive issues, such offensive content. The adults may have to deal with the content themselves. Now, adults who never understood more than a stolen whisper about it, whose parents insisted the content’s nonexistence, would not know how to properly deal with neither the people or that direct, offensive situation in their own life. Meanwhile, adults whose parents at least acknowledged the content by letting them read related literature would have a better idea of what those people are enduring, or what the adults must endure themselves. This will allow them to have more pleasant bonds with those people. This will allow them to have more pleasant, personal experiences when facing these situations. And from the aforementioned strong basis, those adults can build a life where success in any goal they desire is attained.

What can you do about this conflict? How about going to the library to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower. To read literature that will give you an inside look unto the offensive content of humanity. If your parents have an issue, feel free to tell them that reality, a reality you will soon inherit, exists no matter what.

So really....what's going on in that noggin of yours?
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*The bibliography for this post is accessible here.



  1. I also disagree with censorship. My parents don't exactly forbid me to read stuff, but if something dosent fit my parents idea of acceptable, my mom will make my dad read over my shoulder until I put the book down. Then if i want to read it, I have to hide it in my room and read it in the dead of night. I have censorship to blame for my insomnia. I worry that my parents will ask what a book is about and ask to read it. When I came across the f word in Marcello in the Real World, I knew my parents would try to make me return it to the library. Then I feel naughty for still reading the book and for hiding it. Removing censorship would remove the need for this complex. As soon as I can get to Massapequa Public Library I am reading the Perks of Being a Wallflower.
    -Kaitlin Marie

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  3. I especially hate the idea of censorship and surviellance, especially in the United States. I believe that my parents have no right to see/view/control what I know, read, listen to, etc., especially in the United States. Living in an authoritarian household under a democratic government is no better than living in a democratic household under an authoritarian government. Many parents however, think they are doing the best for their child, with the "You'll see why I did this when you grow up" excuse. Not so. More exposure to the outside (and often ruthless and perverted) world can build up the knowledge and perseverence of a teenager like myself. I especially enjoyed your article as well.


    1. Because overall, the household government has more influence.


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