There aren't many things that make me happier than seeing my child lost in a book. However, on occasion my children will select a book that doesn't thrill me. Sometimes I'm not a fan of a book's content. Other times I simply long for them to broaden their literary scope or seek out books from multiple genres. Maybe you can relate. Perhaps your child is reaching for something too mature or a book that contains language, situations, or content that isn't quite age-appropriate or in alignment with your family values. The question remains -- what should you do when you don't approve of the books your child is reading?
Studies have shown that children not only read more, but with more enthusiasm when they are allowed to select their own reading material. Towards that end, when I'm unsure about a book my child selects, I hesitate before enforcing a ban. If you are currently engaged in a battle of the books with your child, here are some steps to take.
Read the Book
When you're uncertain whether or not a book is appropriate for your child, your best bet is to read it yourself. Just like we often screen movies or TV shows prior to allowing our child to view them, it's important to pre-read the books we may be unsure about.
Does your tween want to read the latest YA series? Skittish about a book with the word "Underpants" in the title? Unsure if your child is able to handle a book with sequences of danger or suspense? Read it! You know better than anyone what is appropriate for YOUR child and what your individual child is ready to handle.
Talk About It
If you spot a questionable book in your child's book bag, talk about it! Ask him why he selected the book. Find out what intrigues him. Determine his motives. Is your child reading a book to fit in? Is he looking for a great mystery? Having a conversation with your child may help you make a decision, and in some cases, help find a more suitable alternative.
Use the books that cause you to raise an eyebrow as an opportunity. Start a conversation with your child. Talk about the content. Discuss how the characters could have acted or reacted differently.
My daughter enjoys a book series in which the main character is on the disrespectful side. Instead of banning the books, we talk together about different words the character could use, how my daughter would act in the same situation, what kind of friend the girl would make, etc. So many books can serve as catalysts towards discussions about your ideals and family
Read It Aloud
When my 5-year-old wasn't quite ready to take a trip down Diagon Alley or hear the insults of Aunt Sponge and Aunt Spiker, I opted to read the books aloud. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone and James and the Giant Peach became much more age appropriate when Mommy was selecting which words on the page were read. Reading a book aloud to your child allows you to skip over scenarios that may be inappropriate for your child. Skip over the scenes that may give your sensitive child nightmares. Change a salty word for a more child-friendly one. Not only will you be able to enjoy the book minus the questionable bits, you'll also score some quality time with your kids!
Do What Works for You
If you feel strongly about something, don't be afraid to set boundaries. If you feel like a book doesn't work for your family, it's okay to opt out of reading it. If you feel comfortable with something, go for it! Do a little research, trust your gut, and do what you know is right for your child.
Help your child fall in love with books AND make thoughtful choices. Read with them. Read to them. Review what's on their shelves. Get involved and help your child become a responsible reader.