Saturday, March 13, 2010

Parental Ratings: Boss or Bullshit?

Yeah, I couldn't think of an alliterative word that was an antonym for bullshit. So let that be your 50s flashback for the day. You're welcome.

It appears that Common Sense Media has started filtering into reviews on If you're not sure what Common Sense is, it's a website that rates everything from books to movies to video games on a family level; namely age appropriateness. There's been some pushback because of the way its been implemented on because it takes negative issues found with a book out of context. Basically, if it's a book about a girl getting her period, it'll just highlight things like emerging sexuality and puberty instead of the overall story and leave parents to base their opinions on that. While it's noted in the Publisher's Weekly article that they're changing the way the system is implemented on, I still take issue with it overall. Especially this quote -
"We don't make a judgment. We rate based on age appropriateness."

Common Sense book reviewers are selected from professional reviewers, teachers, librarians, or people with experience in publishing. To help them assess what age level is best, reviewers are given a sophisticated developmental grid that relies on input from psychologists.
Well that have it all down pat then, don't they? They've got psychologists in there and they know, beyond a shadow of subjective doubt, that they're rating 100% accurately.

But really, isn't what is deemed age appropriate based purely on a person's judgment of what is appropriate for an age group? They're basing their opinions on statistical data garnered from controlled testing on a small sampling of people. They're then blanketing their findings across the board and are actually indicating that the ratings are purely objective with "not too many" errors. I'm sorry but the egotism alone is a turn off.

To say they've narrowed age appropriate ratings down to something as finite as math is fallacious, at best. I was reading Stephen King, John Saul and Anne Rice at 11. By far not age appropriate but it's not like reading that work harmed me. It just meant that I was reading at a far higher level than my peers and my parents encouraged it. What parent wouldn't encourage accelerated learning? They encouraged it because they let me know that if I had any questions, I could always ask them. CONVERSATIONS! KIDS AND PARENTS! Foreign concept in this day and age, I know.

One parent in the article indicated she didn't have time to screen everything her children watch and read. Um, but she has time to scour ratings websites to find opinions not her own and base her reasoning on those? Why does EVERYTHING need to be screened? Why can't children just be trusted? Just a little? Why not let them read what they want to read and make it clear that, as a parent, you are open for discussion if they don't understand something? Is there no time for that either? We are raising a world of pussies from how much we shelter our children nowadays. We're also raising a world of idiots for how they mimic the likes of Beavis and Butthead and Jackass and instead of blaming the absentee parents, the cartoons and the video games are to blame. It hurts.

So I'm calling bullshit on parental ratings on anything. Maybe if parents were actually parents like they used to be and started parenting their children and not relying on websites and panels and shrinks and the courts to parent their kids for them, we'd have well-adjusted, well-read kids that would have a modicum sense of personal responsibility and haven't been coddled into ripe, pink vagina land. God forbid an 11-year-old reads a book for a 12-year-old. May the earth shatter in half.


Lea (YA Book Queen) said...

I have to agree, Donna. I've visited the site before, and it makes me cringe. They really do blow everything out of proportion, because the parts they highlight are not always the major point of the story.

It's incredibly sad that parents are following and believing the website. When I was in middle school, high school, my parents never once questioned my book choices. They always encouraged my reading, and never once asked me what it was about, or anything else. They trusted me to pick my books, without interference. I think it's great that these parents want to know what their children are reading, but they really shouldn't judge the books off of this site. They should read the book with their child, or do some further research into it (reviews on Amazon or another site).

Oh, jeez, I could really go on...

Arya said...

AMEN TO THAT!!! Seriously, I agree 150%. There's no way in hell these *adults* can make judgement for everyone. Yes, maybe certain children are not mature enough to read a certain book at a certain time period. But IN ALL HONESTY if they are interested in reading said above level book then, more power to them. That there is a sign of maturity in itself.
Its a novel not a freaking porn magazine.
I remember the librarian not letting me check out Pride and Predjudice in 5th grade because it was supposedly a 12th grade book. What the hell?

Sorry, I'm rambling. But this was a really great post.

April (BooksandWine) said...

Kudos! I agree with everything you state here 100%! Like everyone else sharing stories, I too read books above my age/maturity level, and look at me now, I devour books like they are candy. That's certainly not a negative thing at all. :-)

~Jennifer~ said...

You have an award waiting for you here.

Mary Ann DeBorde said...

Growing up in the late 60's and 70's, I was a voracious reader as was my mother. I had an above average IQ, terrific grades, was well behaved and read EVERYthing mom had, as well as being given carte blanche (& permission) access to the adult section at the public library.

By age 12 I had read most of Dickens, Victor Hugo and other classics. I also read Portnoy's Complaint & Lolita by age 13 LOL.

It all has to do with the maturity & comprehension level of the child as oppossed to an arbitrary 'rank & file' system.

God, I hate this 'Nanny' crap! I could rant forever on this topic, but I won't. Suffice to say, I agree with you, Donna ...

Donna said...

I remember taking out biographies of Charlie Chaplin from the library when I was about 9 or 10. He wasn't a saint, that's for sure! And the librarian was okay with it and my dad, who took me to the library (and gladly) didn't have a problem with it. Really, reading shouldn't be discouraged at all. In such a digital age, parents should take what they can get.

Rebecca Herman said...

Ok, sorry to comment on such an old post but I found it interesting and wanted to comment.

While I certainly don't think parental ratings on books need to be enforced on the majority of kids I do think they can potentially be helpful for parents helping find books for kids who read ahead of their age but are still emotionally immature and upset by certain topics.

I say that because I was one of those kids in middle school - rather emotionally/socially immature for my age but an advanced reader who was able to read above grade level. But I mostly stuck to middle grade/YA books because they seemed "safer." I had a (I'm sure well-meaning) teacher when I was 11 or 12 who strongly encouraged me to read adult books to challenge me academically - the problem was I struggled with the topics/themes in many adult books. I tried going to the library, and picking an adult book in a genre I liked - historical fiction - set in a time period that interested me and with a plot I didn't think sounded too adult - it was about a rich girl and her family's young servant girl who grew up together and how their lives changed as they grew into teenagers. Ok, sounded good. Until I got to the part where the servant girl fell in love with her employer's son, who upon discovering their son's love affair with a girl they would not allow him to marry, forced a crude, unwanted late term abortion on her (described rather painfully). I found the scene extremely disturbing, it was not something I was really prepared to read and that book along with some other adult books I struggled with ended up sending me right back to middle grade/YA books for the next few years.

So honestly, I was one of those kids who probably would have been helped by some content guidelines as I might have been able to find some well, less-disturbing adult books to read that challenged me more academically than childrens' books but after pretty much only ever finding 2 adult books that didn't freak me out that year, I just gave up and went back to a "safe" genre.

Now I'm not saying all kids should be forced to read only books written for their age group. But some kids DON'T want to read certain types of content and knowing which books had particularly mature themes might help that child or teen pick a book that was challenging to their reading ability without being severely disturbing to them. I would have liked to have that information as a preteen and young teenager.

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