Age Recommendations

I’ve been thinking about age recommendations for particular books a lot lately. These thoughts of mine have been stirred up by Banned Books Week earlier this month and challenges to books like Speak.

There are a few blogs I follow that have age recommendations as part of their reviews. These recommendations are usually determined by content regarding profanity, violence, sex, and sometimes mature themes. As I look at these age recommendations, I can’t help but think, “What makes this suitable for 16 year olds but not a 15-year-old?” In my mind, 16 really isn’t that much older or emotionally different than 15. I know I wasn’t that different. Sure, I could drive and date at 16, but I still thought the same way I did when I was 15. (For those of you who aren’t LDS, most LDS people don’t let their children date until their 16; it’s a guideline from our church.)

I’ve also noticed these age recommendations are mostly among bloggers who are members of the same religion and culture I am. Is it only the LDS mentality that wants to keep children from reading things with questionable content? Or, is it a parental mentality, no matter your religion? Or, maybe even a religious or conservative one? I’d think it can’t just be an LDS one.

I guess maybe as a general guideline these age recommendations are okay. But, for me, I feel like the actual child should be taken into consideration not the age. Some children are more adept to handle the tough issues than others. Am I the only one who feels like this? Also, am I the only one who thinks that instead of shying away from things we don’t agree with, we should use books that deal with these tough issues to help us talk about these things with our children?

I had a friend, who I respect a great deal, tell me she doesn’t want her daughters to read Lola and the Boy Next Door until they’re older (they’re in their early teens) because it deals with things she doesn’t want to expose them to–drugs, sex, homosexuality, homelessness, etc. Personally, while I respect and understand her opinion, I feel like she’s doing her daughters a disservice because this book could give her a lot of teaching moments to explain her reasons behind her objections and then let her daughters decide how they feel about it on their own.

I’ll admit that I don’t like to read books with a lot of profanity, especially when it’s the F-word. But, although it may prevent me from enjoying the book as much as I would’ve without the profanity, it won’t stop me from reading it. The only content that will prevent me from reading or finishing a book is how graphic the sex is. I don’t like to read erotica because it’s too detailed for my own tastes and I feel like I’m invading a private part of people’s lives. Now, with that being said, if I were a parent, would I limit my children from reading these types of books? Or, would I explain why I don’t like to read them? Honestly, I don’t know. I’d like to think that I’d be open-minded enough to talk about these things with my child rather than just telling them they can’t read it because they’re not old enough. But, it’s a tricky issue and one that I feel needs to be dealt with on an individual basis.

What are your thoughts?


  1. says

    I have an issue with all the violence being ok in young adult and teen books but not sex. For instance, The Hungers Games is about killing all of your opponents for the viewing pleasures of others and this book is classified as a young adult book, but as soon as there is the mention of sex in a book, the book gets transferred into the teen section.

    I don’t really swear so when there is excessive swearing in a novel it is distracting for me.

    I am not a parent so I can’t really say now what I would let my children read, but my parents never restricted what I read and so I don’t think I will for my children either.

    • says

      I can totally understand what you’re saying. And, it’s so weird to me how different things bother different people. Personally, violence doesn’t bother me because in my mind I know it’s not real. But, for whatever reason, extremely graphic sex does. I guess I feel like that should be private and between the people experiencing it. I feel like a peeping tom and I don’t like that.

      But, I do agree with you. Why is violence okay in young adult books, but sex isn’t? You’d think that parents wouldn’t want either or that they want to classify both as just as bad or a topic of discussion.

  2. says

    I think what you say makes sense. And hopefully what you say about having a discussion with your kids is what people actually do. I know this is one of those things that is easier said than done. I kind of like the age 14 recommendation for many of the YA/teen books out there. Right now, I’m not letting my 12 year old read these books yet. But at 14, I bet she will be much more ready and able to understand/handle/enjoy them more.

    • says

      It’s definitely much easier said that done. I know the parental instinct is to protect your children and that most parents have to learn when to let go and what to let go of. It’s such a fine line to walk and you don’t want to damage a child’s psyche and at the same time, you don’t want them to grow up without any preparation of what’s in the real world. It’s issues likes these that make me glad I’m not a parent.

  3. says

    First, Lisa made a good point in that I think the perspective on some age recommendations are skewed. Violence=ok for a younger audience, but sex=BAD and only suitable for older audiences. That BUGS me.

    Second, maturity within a particular age group can vary widely. One fourteen year old may be quite mature and able to handle violence and sex as well as any adult, while another fourteen year old might be less mature and more easily effected by a book’s content. So, age recommendations are not all that helpful in my opinion. It’s much better to just say, “This book has sexual situations” and let the reader decide whether that’s alright for their kid.

    Lastly, I don’t think most teens are quite as impressionable as people imagine. Your average fifteen year old is probably not going to become violent just from reading a violent book. Same goes with sex, drugs, and alcohol. If they end up doing these things, there were probably a lot of triggers, not just one book.

    • says

      It bothers me too that one is looked at as okay and the other is not. I think they should be treated the same way. And, I also think sex should never ever be treated as “bad.” My religious beliefs tell me that sex should only be between a married couple. And while I follow that belief, I don’t think sex is bad outside of marriage. I think parents with my same belief should focus more on the choice to have sex outside of marriage rather than the act itself.

      And, I agree with your “this book has sexual situations” sentiment. Whenever I read a book with sexual situations or profanity in it, I’ll usually post a parent warning. But, I try to do it in a way without bias. I just want to make sure people know about it so they can make the decision for themselves. I don’t want to deter or promote. Does that make sense?

      And, I also agree that teens are quite as impressionable as adults think they are. I think as long as they’ve been raised with good values, then they’ll make good decisions no matter what they’re exposed to. And, if the child is going to make a bad decision (in a parent’s eye), I don’t think books, TV, games, etc. are going to be a driving force in their decision. It never was for me. My friends and my upbringing weighed much more on my mind when I made questionable decisions.

  4. says

    I don’t post age recommendations on each and every review but I do maintain lists by age group in my archives. My choices aren’t by content but by things like length of book and difficulty of the vocabulary. I keep my age ranges broad. The lists are broken into: picture books, picture books for younger children, middle grade and older.

    As a parent, I make recommendations to my children based on what I know of their interests and their dislikes for content. But I don’t stop them from reading outside their comfort zones as I see reading as a way of growing. They know they can stop reading if a book doesn’t appeal to them after a few pages.

    • says

      I can see how age recommendations in the way that you’re doing it is a great organization tool. I guess the recommendations that I’m having a hard time with is, “This is only suitable for mature audiences, 21+.” How is it their right to tell me that someone younger than 21 shouldn’t read it? Does that make sense?

        • says

          I don’t mind saying that there is some questionable content just to give someone a heads up about it. But, I still leave the decision up to the reader. And, I don’t make age recommendations because I just can’t get past what might be suitable for one may not be for another.

          • says

            I’m in my last year of an MLIS program. Learning about age appropriateness is part of degree. There is a practical aspect to it: knowing where to shelve the book.

            In order for the books to be read, they have to findable. For parents of young children, that means knowing where to find the board books and picture books. For older children it’s knowing where to find fiction / nonfiction / favorite series / new stuff etc. And now with the explosion of YA books and efforts to keep teens reading (as some studies have shown that reading for fun drops off in teenage / young adult years), a lot of libraries are creating special rooms to house the teen / YA books. So that creates another division.

            There are websites that give reading age appropriateness (mostly by vocabulary and length than by content). Titlewave is a site I’ve used to check age appropriateness of books.

            As librarians we’re supposed to be content agnostic. Our goal is supposed to be to hook up books with readers, not keep books from readers. That’s not to say we’re forcing people to read stuff — just we want to have as wide a selection available as physically and financially possible.

            So when setting up my website, I’m keeping in mind the reading difficulties of a book or its physical characteristics when I decide how to list it in the archive. Only rarely do I mention “questionable” content because that’s such a slippery slope.

  5. says

    This is something I really need to put some thought into as my children grow. In fact, I’ve started thinking about it some lately – but with movies. When the Lion King was re-released just recently, I was so excited to buy that movie and share it with my sons. Then, as we were watching, I grew concerned about the themes of death and murder that we were dealing with. I wasn’t so much worried about my one year old, but I knew my almost three year old would “get it”. He took it in stride though. I think our young children are just more aware and stronger than we think they are. I’ve been putting off reading Harry Potter to him because of those themes, but maybe I don’t really need to wait much longer. (I really just can’t WAIT to share that with them.)

    As for teenagers, well, I know my mom let me read stuff that, looking back, I’m kind of surprised about. But, in the end, I think I will end up taking her lead. I hope to raise my sons to be the kind of people who aren’t so impressionable that a book will alter the course of their life. Probably its just best if I do my best as a parent, and then let them make their own choices.

    However, I don’t think any of that means you can’t set a recommended age limit or a parental warning when reviewing books. I actually really like it when people do that. It doesn’t mean it has to be set in stone, but its good information to have when deciding whether or not to read something. One of the reason I like your book reviews so much is because I know we share the same tastes and preferences as far as these things go. So, if Jenni says something was too explicit for her to enjoy, I know I probably won’t care for it either. I hope you keep including that stuff in your blogs.

    Wow, that was a really long response….

    • says

      I understand your concerns about children being more aware than you think they are. And, with that awareness comes responsibility, risk, worry, etc. But, I like what you said about hoping that your parenting techniques will be in a way that a book, movie, what have you will alter the child’s course. That’s exactly how I feel. :) You said it so much better than I did, though.

      I will continue to include whether something is too explicit because I think it’s nice to let people know that and then let them make up their own mind. As I’ve been going through my old reviews and updating them to my new look, I’ve realized that some books I didn’t mention anything but probably should have. At least I know how to make my reviews better now. 😉

  6. Jenny says

    This is such an interesting topic because at first impression I agree with you, hands down, Then, after even a few moments of thought, I start second guessing myself. I think not being a parent seriously effects our opinion. If we had kids we might feel quite differently. I was thinking the other day about The DUFF and how much I liked it but then wondering if ALL the sex scenes were necessary and, sorry, but they weren’t. I hate admitting it because it makes me feel like I can’t recommend the book as strongly but it’s true.
    Then again, I do agree that different children have different levels of being able to accept stuff so we need to consider that…well parents do, anyway.
    Ah well, it’s a tough, thought provoking thing.

    • says

      Yeah, I can understand what you’re saying. I know that until you have your own child, you really can’t make these decisions. You can theorize all you want, but putting thoughts into actions is so much different. That’s why I’m not sure how I’d feel if I actually had kids. It is very thought provoking.

  7. says

    such an interesting question and one i find myself often wondering/pondering/talking about, both as an writer, reader and mother to a 12 year-old daughter who often wants to read the same books i do.

    i think about this almost everyday. actually, as i am typing this response, i feel a blog post coming on. i have too much to say on the subject for a blog comment.

    instead, i’ll share a favorite excerpt from NORTHERN LIGHT by jennifer donnelly that broaches the subject beautifully:

    “it seems to me that there are books that tell stories, and then there are books that tell truths…the first kind makes you cheerful and contented, but the second kind shakes you up…why do writers make things sugary when life isn’t that way…why don’t they tell the truth? why don’t they tell how a pigpen looks after the sow’s eaten her own children? or how it is for a girl when her baby won’t come out? or that cancer has a smell to it?…why doesn’t anyone tell you that?”

    *goes to write a blog post*

    • says

      also, with all that said, i have and will continue to ABSOLUTELY not allow my children to read certain books until they reach a certain age.

      but i would never base that decision on another reviewers age recommendation. that only comes from me.

      • says

        That makes absolute sense. I think it should be up to the parents to decide because they know their children. When in doubt, read the book yourself and then decide. :)

    • says

      I’m excited to read your post. :)

      That’s a great quote. I love sugary books, but I also love books that tell truths. It makes you think. It makes you evaluate your own perspective. It helps you see others’ point-of-view. Thanks for your comment.

  8. Amy says

    This is tricky and something that I’ve been thinking about as my children get older. I think the first step is to have read the book yourself. You have to know what the content is about. And like a lot of bloggers, I think it depends upon the child and his/her maturity level. I also think that discussion is important. It’s fun to talk about books, whether they are sugary or tackle difficult issues. I have a family member who has taught her children the importance of listening to the Holy Ghost. If you are reading something and you are prompted to stop, then do it. I think it’s great advice for all media.

    • says

      Thanks for your thoughts, Amy. I agree that if parents are worried about the content, they should read it themselves to make an educated decisions as to whether their child can read it. Like you said, it’s very tricky. Where do you draw the line? I think your family member’s advice is fantastic and good for, like you said, all media.

  9. says

    What a fabulous post! And all the responses – really great stuff.

    I come at this subject as a reader, a writer and the parent of an 11-year-old. In terms of age recommendations, I do think they’re useful, but just as general guidelines. Ultimately, as with other forms of entertainment – TV; film – it’s up to the individual parent to be aware of what their kids are being exposed to and are ready for. I actually have a pretty liberal attitude toward what my daugher watches, probably because I’m almost always watching with her so I’m there to help discuss whatever needs discussing. And in terms of reading, she’s always been ahead of herself age-wise and I see no point in keeping a child reading younger books if she’s ready for something more sophisticated. I could probably go on about this subject at length – and it looks like I already have! – but the bottom line is, I don’t expect books or TV or film to raise my kid; those things can entertain and even enlighten her, but it’s my job to raise her.

    • says

      I love your bottom line. I think that should be every parent’s bottom line. And, like others have already said, as long as you’ve parented your child, something the child reads isn’t going to alter their world view too badly. Great response! Thank you!

  10. says

    I feel it’s totally appropriate for parents to censor what their children read, whether I agree with it or not. But as a librarian, I feel my job is to provide a wide variety for all ages and all reading tastes. I don’t mind giving my age recommendation, with the caveat that no matter who is providing the age information, it will always be subjective. Interesting thoughts.

    • says

      I think it’s good to have a caveat for age recommendations because they are so subjective. Being a librarian must be tough because you must always be worried about offending someone.

Leave a Reply