Perspective | Carolyn Hax: When Kids Ask For Books They’re ‘too Young’ To Read

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Hello Carolyn: My 12-year-old daughter just picked up my copy of “American Gods” and wants to read it. I think she’s a little too young for it. I also think it could be just the book to pull her into being an eager and committed reader.

I’d say a clear “not yet” to any Stephen King novel. This seems less clear. What do you and the readers think?

— Not Clear

Not Clear: Our rule with our kids was, “If you can read it, you can read it.” No books ever held back, for any reason. Stephen King included. I’d do it that way again.

And oh, boy, do readers have something to say:

  • If my parents had told me I couldn’t read something as a 12-year-old, I would have definitely found a way to read it.
  • Seconding Carolyn’s stance. I read all kinds of stuff I wouldn’t have been allowed to read (had I asked) at that age: “The Godfather,” “The Happy Hooker,” “M*A*S*H,” “Sybil,” “The Exorcist,” etc. I emerged just fine.
  • Oh, my God! Let them read the book. High school English language arts teacher here. It’s okay to give an easily frightened kid a heads-up about a scary book. But do not stifle curious readers.
  • I started reading Stephen King and John Grisham when I was 12, and I’m no worse for wear. In fact, John Grisham got me hooked on everything law and now I’m an attorney.
  • My son was a very advanced reader, and I had trouble keeping him in appropriate reading material. I was greatly relieved when a school mom friend, a psychologist in a public school system, told me kids generally censor themselves. If it is too heavy or distasteful, they will put it down.
  • Speaking as someone who always read books inappropriate to her age, your daughter has probably been exposed to more than you know. Bonus: It could be a great way to open up conversations about sex, consent, and female portrayal in art.
  • As a librarian and a parent of a 10-year-old, I say let your daughter read it! Our rule in the house has always been to allow full intellectual freedom where books are concerned; we are much more careful about TV and movies, which are passively consumed.
  • Most kids won’t see what the adults see. And if they do, it’ll probably go over their heads because they don’t get it, and mostly they won’t care.
  • As a precocious reader who read Stephen King books and “The Clan of the Cave Bear” at 12, and sometimes had non-related adults aghast that my parents would “allow” it, I was more comfortable asking my parents about things that went over my head in said books. It was a natural way for them to discuss some challenging or complex things with me.
  • When my young teenage son wanted to watch “Game of Thrones,” I made a deal — he could watch it if he read the books first. Since there are so many of them and they are so long, I figured I was good to go. He called my bluff, read them all. Another vote to let the kid read what she wants.
  • They want to read! Celebrate this. “Protecting” them from things they might read is a bit of a joke today with the access they have to everything else.

Carolyn here. You’re right, though the ideological micromanagers and control freaks pulling books from shelves are more dystopian horror stories than jokes.

This also reminds me I haven’t stated the obvious, that the filth kids see on their or friends’ phones is so much worse than whatever they read that this whole discussion might be irredeemably quaint. Except for the fascism thing. So, yeah.

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