Comments: 3 Questions with Tanya Lee Stone (and then I get on a Soapbox)

Thanks Joshilyn. I'd like to clarify something. I was referring to kids 14 and up deciding for themselves whether they are ready or not to read my book. It is marked 14 and up right on the book, is categorized as upper YA, and I would not recommend it for kids younger than 14. I would definitely not give it to a 6th or 7th grader simply because they are advanced readers as they are likely not ready for the content. It was in the context of the book being meant for high-school age readers that I was answering your question. Also, I do not believe that trusting a teen to make reading choices for themselves automatically cuts the parent out. Absolutely, parents should be there to offer opinions and talk with their kids. I was keeping my answers short for the interview, but in the interest of clarity thought I'd speak up as I don't think we're too far off from being on the same page.

Posted by Tanya Lee Stone at March 31, 2006 8:45 AM

I completely agree with you that parents need to be involved in their childrens reading habits, and not afraid to parent. You can't be a good parent if you're afraid they won't like you. Parents aren't supposed to be friends with their children, until those children are adults and no longer need to be guided and told "no" when they need to hear it.
Personally, I think 14 is too young to read material of a sexual manner. 14 is too immature, no matter how intelligent that 14 year old is. Maybe that 14&up rating should be raised to 16&up?

Posted by Vixen at March 31, 2006 10:05 AM

Fourteen is not too young to be thinking about sex and to be wildly curious abotu sex and to be talking about sex with friends and to know people who are actually HAVING sex. I had several friends lose their virginity at 14 and that was back in the relatively innocent 80's...poor little things. They weren't physically or mentally or emtionally able to even understand what they were doing...

Now me, I read books about sex including FOREVER and Mr. and Mrs. BoJo Jones etc etc, and yes, at 14 or 15 I read Lady Chatterly's Lover with all the FLANKS and everything. I was innocent, but it was an informed innocence... and I had a good basis to decide to NOT sleep with my first serious boyfriend when I started dating at 16.

I think 14 is way to young to be HAVING sex, for the love of God. I would never let a 14 year old go out on a DATE, even, but by 14, the estrogen is running, boys suddenly start to smell good, and it's a hard thing to sort out. Books are a safe place to to ask and get answers. Dates aren't.

I really think a girl needs to have her ideas about sex forming and some decisions made before she starts dating, or those decisions will be be made for her, or she'll panic and make bad decisions, or not decide at all and take the path of least resistance, all of which are not good places to be at 15 or 16.

Posted by Joshilyn at March 31, 2006 10:16 AM

I should add that I also had PARENTS who talked to me about sex, and told me I flat had no business having any, and who weren't scared to answer my questions.

Last year I gave my son a book with the low down on how people make babies, and it KILLED ME, KILLED ME, I was PURPLE with KILLEDNESS that's how embarrassing it was to talk with him about it, but it's vital, and I did it, and I hope it's a dialog that will stay open with me and his dad (though more PLEASE GOD with his dad than me as he matures---I'll get mine when Maisy is older).

Posted by joshilyn at March 31, 2006 10:21 AM

Great post, Joshilyn. I read Forever at about the same age you did, and I think it was the right age. My mom didn't want me to read it, but at least she did have a pretty open attitude about talking about sex with me and my sisters. FWIW, I think the same thing applies to movies. I hate being in the theater with kids who are seeing movies they're clearly not ready for. Back when Jurassic Park first opened, my sister and I were sitting next to a little kid who was TERRIFIED, and his father didn't take him out of the theater. I can't imagine why you would take a child that age to a PG-13 movie without seeing it, yourself, first.

Posted by Aimee at March 31, 2006 10:36 AM

Very nice interview!

Btw, I adore that li'l graphic on your banner!

Posted by Faith Bicknell-Brown at March 31, 2006 10:36 AM

This is such a great post. I think that people (parents included) are sometimes so afraid of being too extreme in one direction (say: censorship) that they pendulum swing ALLLL the way to the other side (say: letting their children read, watch, listen to whatever the heck finds them). People forget there can be, must be, a balance. I think we all know this. We know when it feels like our children are treading a little far from our reach and influence but we talk ourselves out of it concerned that it is we who are being overprotective or ultra conservative or just not cool enough.

I really loved the way you discussed it. Again, great post!

Posted by Em at March 31, 2006 11:10 AM

Can I just say this...

I was a very early reader. I was reading Stephen King novels by the time I was a fifth grader. Not appropriate material if you ask me. Swear words! Nakedness! Death and Malice! One particular book of short stories scared the crap right out of me and I didn't read another SK book for a loooong time.

I remember reading Watership Down when I was in fifth grade and being totally disturbed by parts where rabbits actually died.

Then I found Sweet Valley High books and Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew and spent my summer competing with my cousing to see who could finish the books first (she always won). Thank goodness I found something a bit more my age...

Posted by Heather Cook at March 31, 2006 11:43 AM

I was also a terribly early reader, and ended up reading all sorts of things too early (for example, it ruined J.R.R. Tolkien for me, because I wasn't ready for that level of complexity and description). I never read anything that ruined *me* though, despite stumbling on some fairly descriptive sex scenes in a book I got at the fourth grade book fair .

I also read a lot more of my mom's novels than I should have, but missed the innuendo, and skipped the sex scenes. I was self-censoring, and my folks never got involved. Like everything in life and parenting, I am sure it depends on the kid.

I don't know what I will do as a parent - probably a lot of parallel reading as you suggest.

Posted by redzils at March 31, 2006 12:12 PM

I think parents also need to know their kids and what kind of "no" they'll respond to. My mother FORBID us to read 'Jaws' and it resulted in my sister Aimee (of the earlier response) and I sneaking it out to the garage and reading it by flashlight. Also, 'The Godfather'. And kids who are really advanced readers tend to have fabulous imaginations. For example, reading such books could cause a child to be afraid to use the toilet for fear a preternaturally large uber-shark might come up through the bowl and bite her butt off. Or, say, cause an exagerrated fear of Mafia hitmen. In a preteen Irish girl. In Weymouth. Massachusetts.

I'm just sayin'...

Posted by Laura at March 31, 2006 12:21 PM

This issue strikes a nerve with me. I have a YA book under contract right now, although I didn't realize it was for a YA audience until the publisher who accepted my manuscript suggested we market it that way. It's rough. I wrote a story that I wholeheartedly believed in, mostly imagining 20-year-olds picking it up. Now I'm learning that, if it's in the YA section of bookstores, 14-year-olds might be reading this thing. If I wasn't a mother of an eight-year-old who is DYING to read her mommy's novel, I probably wouldn't give so much thought to how it's marketed. But I am what I am. And the novel is what it is. I have tried to remain faithful to my characters and the story (which has violence and language flags all over it), while keeping this newly-realized audience in mind. It's still being revised, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I do a good job.

Posted by Cathy at March 31, 2006 12:22 PM

Let me start this post off by saying I had sex very early, and all for the wrong reasons. I was raped at 13, and my parents made some very bad choices in dealing with it. It only got worse when I was raped at 16. I was a very early reader, a very early everything and I survived being me. I had to learn for myself, books helped a lot,it's not that they didn't want to do right, they just weren't equipped to have a daughter like me.

I didn't read Forever (to my knowlegde) I'd never heard of it before. But I did read Lady's Chatterly's Lover, I wasn't impressed. And I did read a lot of other books. What I did learn was that everything is not as it seems and to ask questions. When I became a parent I remembered this and determined I would be an accessible parent, there to answer questions. To ban something only makes a child want it more, a teen want it more, a husband want it more. The answer I thought was being up front and dealing with it together.

My credo for parenthood was and is to be honest as I can possibly be, address things in advance, never stay mad, and to not judge. This is as true in book choice as it is in sex, drugs, and rock n' roll.

And for those of you who think you can't be your child's friend. If you taught them respect first, listened to them, and talked openly friendship and respect will be your best allies when you're a single parent.

Posted by Cele at March 31, 2006 12:50 PM

Okay, so I was an early reader who read Forever at I think 13 or maybe even 12, intentionally bid adeiu to my virginity at 16, and still don't regret it lo these many MANY years later even though the thought of my daughter who is halfway to 16 NOW doing either of those things fills me with a horrible crampy tummy ache.

But I am not writing to talk about me.

I am also the mother of an almost 10 year old son with Asperger Syndrome. He is VERY high functioning and is reading at a high school level now, in 4th grade. He does not like fiction at all and really STRONGLY prefers encyclopedias and things of that nature, but recently he was assigned a book report, and the book had to be fiction. The teacher was very clear that each kid should choose a book at his/her reading level, and my son chose a book in the Left Behind: The Kids series.

I didn't know about this until he was 3 chapters in. My concern was that the religious themes presented in the book veered SO incredibly far from our religious beliefs as a family (we are lapsed UUs) that he would be totally weirded out by them and by the very idea of Christianity altogether, particularly the flavor represented in the books. So I told him that if he had any questions or concerns about anything in the book, or if anything in the book made him feel "weird and icky" (his terminology), he should tell me.

You should have SEEN the look of relief that washed over his face. His little voice even broke as he told me that YES, many things in this book made him feel weird and icky. So I was all prepared for the religious history/tolerance discussion when he started talking about all the smoking, drinking and drug use in the book. I mean, this book was about the BAD kids who get left behind at the Rapture, and so they were doing BAD things in the book. And my little semi-autistic boy has a very black and white sense of morality. There is no grey for him; things are either GOOD or BAD and BAD things freak him right out.

SO, after clarifying that the religious stuff did not bother him AT ALL, I had to launch into the smoking/drinking/drugs discussion, for which I was not prepared AT ALL, and I probably flubbed it up horribly. And then I suggested that he ask the teacher if he could pick another book, which he did, and she said okay so all is well. I think.

And somewhere up there in that long-winded mess, I am agreeing with you about the parenting/censorship thing. I think.

Posted by Badger at March 31, 2006 2:00 PM

As a nonparent, I get it. I have siblings, and ahve worked with kids for years. Right now I have friends with children, and I can hardly imagine them reading the stuff I sometimes read when my parents weren't looking. (When I got grounded as a kid, my mom took my books away.)

I agree whole heartidly that each child and parent needs to be taken on thier own, and parents should know what their kids are reading, watching on TV, and doing in general - without being overly nosey or critical because that leads to hiding. (So sorry for the runon there.)

I can not believe gods got put on a kids table. I imagine you were upset...

Posted by Autumn at March 31, 2006 3:40 PM

I'm just chiming in to say that I did not self-censor AT ALL. I read stuff that made me very, very uncomfortable, but I kept reading. I can still feel that yucky sense of discomfort when I knew I was reading something I was not old enough for. And kept reading anyway.

Posted by laura at March 31, 2006 6:34 PM

"Personally, I think 14 is too young to read material of a sexual manner. 14 is too immature, no matter how intelligent that 14 year old is. Maybe that 14&up rating should be raised to 16&up?"

I would respectfully suggest that to say a fourteen-year-old -- most of whom are in or about to enter high school -- shouldn't be reading anything of a sexual nature isn't very realistic. Unless that fourteen-year-old has been raised in isolation, she knows about sex and is interested in how it's going to work for her when she gets around to it, assuming she hasn't already experimented, either alone or with someone else.

Keeping in mind that I'm not advocating a return to the days and ways of old, a century ago, fourteen-year-old girls were considered ripe for marriage and child-bearing in many communities. Our discomfort as adults and parents with adolescent sexuality does not automatically make that sexuality, in and of itself, wrong.

Joss, you've got the right idea. Openminded guidance, the willingness to say "not yet, but not never" lovingly, and a determination to avoid disapproval or judgment is the way to go.

Posted by Selah at March 31, 2006 9:33 PM

We just had a multiple killing up here, and the youngest who was shot was 14. Her curfew was 3:00 a.m. but she got killed at about 7 in the morning. She hadn't been home. The second youngest, same situation different family, was 15. These weren't throw-away kids. They came from good families, and the parents here trusted their children to do the right things. There's no protection from insanity.

I taught high school for ten years. Now I'll grant you, it wasn't your typical high school, since it was on the US/Mexico border. The student population was about 2200, and we had a class on managing daycares, complete with babies. Students' babies as well as teachers' babies. I had a young man come in and for his informative speech, he taught us how to change a baby's diapers, and he brought in his six-month-old daughter. He was great, incidentally. I had a freshman come in, heavily pregnant with her second child. Their parents approve. The generation gap there averages about 15 years, which means you can be a grandmother by 30, great grandmother by 45. It was typical, not exceptional.

My points here are that in an ideal world, kids should be exposed to sexual themes when they're ready. But regardless of what we want or how carefully we monitor things, unless we keep our kids in their rooms, cut off from the outside world - which might be attractive on the surface but really isn't - they're going to be exposed to things they're not ready for, things we're certainly not ready for! You might be appalled at what's really going on in your child's school, the level of awareness each child has, and that's in some of the best schools, not just the border ones.

Shelter them if you can, but don't be surprised if the questions you get are more detailed and go off in darker or more frightening directions than you anticipated, provided they'll speak candidly with you. I don't mean to be a doomsday sort of person here, but I've seen the side of schools that parents don't get to see, been on the buses with the kids when they think I'm just an old lady who's not listening. Even the most innocent kid out there has a savvy or pseudo-savvy friend or acquaintance who can find stuff on the internet. If this book is informative and candid, it may be all the information some kids will get, especially if they can't talk about sexual stuff with their parents.

Posted by Fran at March 31, 2006 11:27 PM

Frankly, I don't think that because the book in question is one where "none of the characters gets punished for being sexually aware human beings" makes it a SAFER book for young teens. Speaking as a person who suffered myriad consequences for having sex before it was appropriate (and no, I'm not going to detail WHICH consequences) I have to say that a book that doesn't address these issues is doing teenagers no favors. Teenagers always think that it can't happen to them...and it can SO happen to them! A book that furthers the idea that anyone is immune to the painful, sometimes lifelong consequences of too-early sex is just not one I can get behind. Thank God my kids are way too young for this yet.

Posted by Amy-GO at April 1, 2006 9:03 AM

Oh, boy. I have a lot to say about this. I am much more ambivalent on this subject than I used to be. I read everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) as a kid, and some of it disturbed me, but I don't regret any of it. (Except reading Story of O when I was 13. That was freaky.) I would have been furious if someone had vetted my reading, and would've found a way to read the books anyway. The only book my mom ever gently peeled away from me (she didn't know about Story of O) was Sybil, when I was 10 or 11, and of course I had to know what was so terrible about that book that it was the only one she forbade, and I skimmed through it and read all the creepiest parts and decided that maybe she was right. Of course there was nothing she could have done to make me *more* determined to read it, but I felt comforted that she'd made a protective judgment call.

So I came to adulthood and librarianship very much feeling that kids will read what they're ready for, and put down or blip over what they're not (Except for The Story of O), and that "age-appropriateness"--while I had to respect it professionally--was really code for "overprotectiveness/censorship/not wanting kids to have any information on anything that threatens their parents."

After eight years as a school librarian, and now as the parent of a nearly-literate kid who has been trying to be OLDER since she was a baby, I'm coming around a bit, though I think my inclinations are still way less literarily protective than those of most of your commenters. Every kid *is* different, and that means that anyone doing mass recommendations (librarians, booksellers, book publishers) needs to be cautious about what's good for what age.

It still irks me when well-meaning adults take a book out of a kid's hand and say (as I heard one teacher tell a smart, thoughtful 3rd-grader about "Because of Winn-Dixie") "That's a fourth-grade book." I plan to let my girl read whatever she wants to, but to make recommendations, incuding recommending that she wait with some books. I don't think reading about sex early made me want to have sex early (if anything, it made me more self-conscious about it, but there might not have been much to do about that); I think more information is better than less. But yeah, there are kids who will be disturbed by sex (and violence! just as disturbing or more so!) in books. And even if they sneak a look at those books (as I did) it will make them feel protected and parented to know that someone's looking out for them, that they're not all alone in the big world of text.

Also--even more important to me as someone who LOVES kids' books, I get concerned that when kids want to read "up" very early, they miss some of the terrific kids' books that they won't have the chance to read later, and that they won't enjoy the YA or adult stuff as much when they hit it early, and won't go back to it later because they read it already.

But enough about me and my rants; what bizarre ideas did you get from ROOTS? Middle-age wants to know...

Posted by elswhere at April 1, 2006 1:49 PM

Ya know, Mom let me choose my own reading material. Heh. Probably wasn't her best move. In 6th grade, I discovered the cheap romances and read them BECAUSE they were cheap. They were basically soft porn. I spent middle school with a skewed idea of what love and sex were like. LOL! In 8th grade, I was addicted to VC Andrews. I think she is part of why I was such a drama queen.

Posted by Heather at April 2, 2006 3:21 PM

I found "Go Ask Alice" when I was 10!
I haven't decided if this was good or bad. I came away not EVER wanting to do drugs! (and didn't) But, like your "ROOTS" experience, came away with some really different ideas about some of the situations in the book. My 10 year old self wasn't aware existed in this universe. And shouldn't have known. I'm not sure at 40 I want to know they exist.
Of course, I would read the back of the asprin bottle if it meant having something to read.
Which brings me to having found my grandmother's "True STory" magazines! NOW, that is not for 10 year olds. I'm pretty sure this is what whorped my brain! But that's a different story.
If you have an asprin bottle reader, watch them very carefully. They really will read whatever they come across. (I did not have this problem with my girls, as the joy of reading TRUELY skips a generation. I would offer them money to read, at which they turned turned up their noses)Yet another story.

Posted by Desi at April 2, 2006 7:30 PM

Oh, man, VC Andrews! "Forever" is, like, Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, compared to "Flowers in the Attic." That is one twisted book.

But...EVERYONE read it. Even the intellectuals who pretended we were too cool for it.

Posted by elswhere at April 2, 2006 11:23 PM