General Question

SuperMouse's avatar

How flexible (or inflexible) should I be about what my son reads?

Asked by SuperMouse (30772points) November 30th, 2012

My 14 year-old son is a voracious reader. He reads lots of young adult literature (he loved The Maze Runner trilogy, and the Graceling series), and has also read plenty of adult fiction from This Boy’s Life by Tobias Wolff to most of the Lonesome Dove series by Larry McMurtry. Now he is interested in learning more about World War II and the war in Viet Nam. He asked me to get him a copy The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I want to encourage him to read and continue to be exposed to lots of great books, but some of this stuff might be pretty intense for a 14 year-old.

I have always let him read what he wants (aside from smut, which of course he will read behind my back if he really wants to) and I am wondering if I should continue to do so or if I should have him wait until he is a bit older?

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33 Answers

Shippy's avatar

I speak from hindsight, so my advice is the one to take!! If I could go back, I would ban TV, movies, school, internet, and pretty much everything. Take my son and go and live on a mountain top. They are so precious, so absorbing, so vulnerable.

But sadly life is not like that, reality is so full of “stuff”. But I think here the key is “reality”. Many books, and movies and plays and things that go on in life. Are just a perception of reality, made or observed by another person. This is what we need to talk about with our children. Before or after they have read or seen something we feel uncomfortable about. To talk it through. Get their ideas and opinions on what they saw/read. Then check if their thinking is OK with it.

We can shelter our kids and we want to, but once my son saw a person hit by a truck on a motorcycle. I wish he had not seen it. It haunted him for days. So we spoke about it. How dangerous and vulnerable a motorcycle can be. How dangerous driving can be and particularly when drunk. So maybe to look at the positives of what life offers us the lessons it teaches us. The way we want to be, or do not want to be.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

At 14 he should be able to handle the WWII and Vietnam stuff. He’s probably exposed to worse stuff in school. I have a lot of books on those wars and they’re not too bad. Some of the movies are a little more questionable. We were Soldiers Once is too intense for me at times. But the books should be fine. Just ask him if he wants to talk about it from time to time.

rojo's avatar

I concur with @Adirondackwannabe. I recall reading anything I could get my hands on at that age and it continues to this day. I am sure some of the stuff bothered me back then but cannot recall any problems that it caused so they must have been minor. Mom used to drop me off at the library for a couple of hours while she shopped and I would load up on books for the week. She always encouraged my reading habit and I remember her looking through the books or asking what I had checked out. There were a few times she said “Hmmmm” but do not remember her ever banning anything I picked out.

filmfann's avatar

14 is a good age for this material. It will have an impact on him, so you need to be aware of that.

JLeslie's avatar

I would let him read those books, but remind him if it is upsetting he can always put it down and come back to it at a later time. Can be years later.

In Jr. High we learned about the holocaust, so I would assume this sort of material is ok for a 14 year old. I’m not a mom, so I am a little removed from how 14 olds tend to handle and think on these difficult topics, I just have my own experience to go on. I definitely could have waited another couple years to learn some of the horrors, but I don’t think it was detrimental in any way. I had always been aware of war and torture, etc. It also seems to me men in general read and watch movies more from an observers perspective rather than identifying with the characters perspective.

marinelife's avatar

I think that if he wants to read them, he should be able to, but with an advance “we can talk about this if you want to”.

Be thrilled he is reading so much.

CWOTUS's avatar

If he wants to read The Things They Carried, then more power to him, and to you if you’ll relax a bit. Yes, it’s an intense book. I read it myself, and I found parts of it somewhat overpowering even at my age. But it’s a great book. He should absolutely be encouraged to read this and others of its kind.

The world needs more young people with the kind of intellect and sensitivity to not only read such a book but also to learn its lessons. If it’s too overpowering for him, then you can be there to help him deal with some of the issues raised. I hate to say “It’s just a book”, but really, it’s better to see this sort of thing in print and thoughtfully dealt with than, say, the myriad of unthinking, gory, blast-em-all-to-hell video games that most kids his age gravitate toward.

Buy the book for him, by all means!

gailcalled's avatar

I was the kid who read everything in print from the moment I discovered the miracle of reading. However, iIn my day, there was far less information available, especially for young readers.

Having said that, given the glut of info everywhere about everything, I would let my kid read it. The quality of the writing and the thought that went into “The Things They Carried” will balance some of the graphic material. O“Brien deals with the complex abstractions that war generates…guilt, remorse, horror, regret. memory…in a useful way.

The Things They Carried was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and won the French Prix du Meilleur Livre Étranger.”

So my vote is let me read what he wants. 14 puts him in ninth grade, correct?

He can skip what he wants, and as others have suggested, talk with you when and if he needs to.

SuperMouse's avatar

@gailcalled he is in eighth grade.

I have read the very first story in The Things They Carried (titled The Things They Carried if I remember correctly). I found it engrossing and of course thought provoking. Last night he gave me the book and asked me to read another one of the stories that impacted him. I was glad about that because it indicated that he knows he can talk about the things that he might find disturbing. Although this one wasn’t disturbing as much as it was touching.

@CWOTUS I have always let him read whatever interests him. Which meant putting up with a solid year of hearing about the adventures of warring clans of cats I actually handed him This Boy’s Life and a couple of other “grown up” books I thought he might like and he has thoroughly enjoyed them. I held my breath as he read a couple of young adult books (Last Night I Sang to the Monster and Looking for Alaska among them); it is his new found interest in war history that has me thinking about this.

Mariah's avatar

14 is a great age, just at the beginning of developing more complex thought. He can handle it, and it will help him grow.

JLeslie's avatar

@SuperMouse Awww, it sounds like you have a very nice relationship with him, and that he is an inquisitive and smart young man.

CWOTUS's avatar

I can completely understand your feelings about your son reading such works, @SuperMouse. I can still recall the things I was reading at that age, and they tended to glorify war, or at least clean it up a little bit and add some pretty girls from time to time, in the form of wives, sweethearts, nurses and so forth. (And most of my favorite reads of the time were of actual naval warfare from “the last good war”, as if that really could exist, which was still pretty brutal, but not so muddy.) Fortunately in my case, I was also exposed to some of the waste, banality and utter boredom of enlisted life, as well as an understanding of what even “sanitized” combat could do to all of the participants, so I refrained from enlisting in the Vietnam war, which was still “the patriotic thing to do” when I was his age.

So I think it’s good (for him and for you) that he’s maturing to a point where he would rather understand the mud and the blood and the horror of war without having to experience it first hand – one hopes. It would be an excellent thing if more of our Dear Leaders would read such books before they get some of the ideas of “glorious conquest” and “spread of democracy” (or else) that they seem to get from time to time.

Here’s another good book for you both to read: Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand. It’s a true story full of heroism and real horror – and the hero, Louis Zamperini, is still alive, last I had heard.

SuperMouse's avatar

@CWOTUS I devoured Unbroken in a day! I loved that book and recommended it to him but for some reason he didn’t get into it.

Linda_Owl's avatar

If your son has the interest, you should encourage him to read. I know that I was reading everything I could get my hands on when I was 12 & I still enjoy reading a little of everything (both fiction & non-fiction). It is great that you & your son are close enough that you can discuss what he is reading. My Mother & I had a similar relationship & we frequently discussed the books that she & I both read.

augustlan's avatar

He’s got a good head on his shoulders, as do you. At his age, I’d let him read anything he wants, barring porn. It’s great that you share stories and books with each other!

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m a voracious speed-reader and love love love to read. My mom and grandparents were never really the over-protectove types’, they were expose and discuss types, so I was allowed to read anything I wanted from age 12 on.

Now my reading has greatly affected my life for the better, in that my SAT’s and ACT scores were really good. My cognitive reading skills are superlative, as is my spelling. I have had several great jobs, including my present one, because my verbal and writing skills. I see published books that have misspellings constantly and also on advertising ads and billboards as well. Also, I can entertain myself no matter where I am or what’s going on, and not disturb anyone, while getting my self-education on subjects I have interest in (I was never really a scholastic type person, I read what interests me not what I’m told to read.)

There were a few things that disturbed me and I would discuss them with my mom, so like someone menioned earlier, just make sure when you give him the freedom, you give him the option of discussing with an adult. You are blessed to have a reader as a child.

flutherother's avatar

I would be flexible in what you let him read. I don’t think preventing him from reading anything is a good idea. Reading exclusively about war at that age is perhaps a little morbid and I would introduce him to other writers and topics that might interest him. But at the end of the day he will read what he wants to read.

lightsourcetrickster's avatar

I could write an essay on this but I won’t. What I will say is that I was reading literature about the 2nd world war when I was your boy’s age, and it opened my eyes. When someone realizes the scale – the huge scale – in which so many people made sacrifices so that we could live as (more or less) free people, it certainly makes you grow up a lot more. The stuff I read, which I can’t remember the titles of because I’m in my 30s so it was a loong time ago, certainly did make me realize a lot of things. I see no harm to be done here.

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t believe in censoring a child’s reading. I always told my kids they could read whatever they wanted, but some things would be better to save until they were older and better able to understand them. If they felt ready for it, I wouldn’t stop them. Our household libraries have always been completely open to them, and they include some pretty mature stuff.

SuperMouse's avatar

@flutherother he doesn’t read books about war exclusively, he is interested in lots of different genres.

flutherother's avatar

@SuperMouse Sounds perfect. I don’t think you have a problem then.

BBawlight's avatar

I will say this. My parents let me read whatever I want, and they don’t really care if I try drugs (not any of the hard stuff like crystal meth) or alcohol. They are very open minded and let me have more freedoms than most teens my age do. Them doing this has kept my mind away from the temptations because I don’t feel like I have to prove or show anything to them.

I went through a phase a few weeks ago where I wanted to learn exclusively about the Holocaust. I looked online and checked out books in the library, some of them a little violent. I even went as far as to watch Schindler’s List.
I don’t think parents should sensor most of the things that they do. Some parents don’t let kids my age read YA books, but I don’t think they are that bad. I don’t think they should keep their kids holed up because when they face reality, they won’t be ready for it…

Buttonstc's avatar

This is the age where he is beginning to come to grips with a lot of adult issues and war and it’s consequences is certainly a major one. I don’t think censoring his reading would serve any useful purpose. Plus, you obviously have a solid enough relationship with that the two of you can communicate freely about any troubling issues.

I think it’s pretty typical for voracious readers to go through periods of focusing upon one or more topics and reading everything they can get their hands on about the subject and then move on to another.

As long as it’s good quality literature (which the books you’ve mentioned are) let him roam free.

I went through my horse phase, dog phase, science fiction, seafaring, war and other assorted phases but I always preferred classic writers like Conrad, Hemingway, Asimov, Bradbury etc. because the dumbed down stuff for “young readers” was ridiculously expurgated.

He sounds like a really intelligent boy and can handle where his exploring mind takes him. Trust his judgement. There are far worse things he could be wasting his time on.

I bet he will score incredibly high on the language portions of his SATs. Instead of cramming a bunch of unrelated vocabulary words into his skull in last minute efforts, he will be able to rely upon the fruits of years and years of exposure to good writing. Let his brain forage at will in the fields of literature. There just isn’t any substitute for that.

Buttonstc's avatar


As a slightly amusing sidenote upon censorship, I just remembered something rather amusing. My parents never gave a damn what I read so I had totally free reign to explore whatever I wished.

But my one brief brush with censorship was interesting. It was either 7th or 8th grade and we were assigned to a “homeroom teacher”. The one I was in had a kind of interesting approach to keeping us (hopefully) busy with something other than throwing spitballs and fooling around :)

He had been receiving the (then popular) series of Readers Digest Condensed Books for about ten years or more and covered the length of a wall with them for us to read if we wanted. I’m not sure anyone else took advantage of them, but it was paradise for me and over the course of the year managed to read every one of them.

For those not familiar, these were hardcover anthologies of most of the best of current books in abridged form which came out about 3–4 times a year or so.

Now, I have little idea what their criteria were for taking a book like Hawaii by James Michener and reducing it to about a tenth of it’s original size. But it was certainly a ghost of itself by the time they were finished with it.

I was initially delighted by being able to “read” all of these “books”. But after I had read through most of them, I got the brilliant idea of checking the whole book from the library just to see what I had missed.

Well, that was an eye opener, to say the least. In the next several years I wound up reading practically all of those books in their full length unexpurgated versions because I realized how much had been butchered in the condensed version. And with good literature, an abridged version is a crime.

I never ever cracked open a Cliff Notes all through the rest of my high school and college years and developed a lifelong hatred of censorship in any form and for any reason (no matter how noble or benign the motive.)

For the longest time,I was so puzzled by why Readers Digest would do this to good literature and why anyone would waste money buying it. (Especially when you could check it out of the library for free to enjoy all of it.). Why waste all that time and money on the abridged version when in all likelihood, if ypu enjpyed it, you’d end up reading the whole thing eventually anyhow?

Of course, when I got older I realized that people were willing to make any kind of compromise as long as they could “sound intelligent and well informed” at cocktail parties or around the water cooler. Actually enjoying good literature apparently was a foreign concept for them :)

So, I learned early in life to abhor censorship for any reason.

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SuperMouse's avatar

@Everyone, thanks for the feedback. I was leaning toward letting the boy read what he wanted, and I appreciate the reassurance that it is the right thing to do. I also really appreciate the suggestions to keep an open dialog about what he is reading and how it is impacting him. So thanks! Have a round of lurve on me!

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

I think you should be as flexible as possible, as you can. I think every book he reads can be up for discussion, even if the book is one you don’t like or its views are not in line with yours or you think the content is too much. I don’t think I could ever tell my kid not to read something. But, then again, there is nothing I won’t discuss with them no matter what the age.

dabbler's avatar

Sounds like a pretty good reading appetite to me.
I think if you talk with him about some of the stuff that could generally be disturbing about the material, then he’ll learn from you what sort of perspective to put on that.
You have a thoughtful and curious youngster there, and he’s lucky you’re willing to nurture that.

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SuperMouse's avatar

As a post script to this question… My son finished a particularly tough story, sat down at the table, and shared it with his step-dad and me. He told the entire story and by the end had broken down in tears. As he was telling it he was trying really hard to keep it together because his two younger brothers were in the room, but the intensity overwhelmed it. It was a great experience and I am glad I didn’t stop him from reading this book.

dabbler's avatar

@SuperMouse Let us know when he starts to publish. ..or maybe he will have a book review blog. Anyway, sounds like you have little to worry about, except keeping up with him.

Andreina's avatar

The world is better seen through books. I would let him read it and not just watch it on TV which usually makes everything more difficult to deal with as a parent as well.

Consider yourself lucky that he is an avid reader and has this great passion. nurture it!

Best of luck!

skfinkel's avatar

Just saw this question. I would be thrilled about the voracious reading, and certainly “The Things They Carried” is a great book. I would support his reading everything.

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