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Customer Discussions > Children's Books forum

Daily Book Talk: Violence - How Much Is Too Much?


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Showing 1-16 of 16 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 21, 2012, 3:39:34 PM PDT
***SELF-PROMOTION IS NOT ALLOWED*** (Thank you kindly)

Parents have many varying opinions on what amount of violence is okay or too much for their children. It can also depend on the individual child.

What are your boundaries for violence you allow your children to read, and at what ages?

Do you think violence in books can have a negative impact on children? Or perhaps a positive impact, as violence is very much a part of our everyday world?

Who do you think is responsible for determining what levels of violence are appropriate for what age groups? Do you as a parent preview books for you children? Do you rely on recommendations from teachers and friends? Do you use the age guidelines included on some books?

Posted on Mar 21, 2012, 6:15:29 PM PDT
i don't have kids, but from what I remember my mom doing growing up...she was a teacher, so had her finger on the pulse of books for us...

if I brought one home that she was curious about she was flip through it, read a chapter here, or a few pages...if she still had questions, then it was one that we might have read together...but I can count on 1 hand the number of times 1 reached that level. most of the time I could read pretty much anything I wanted, but then the YA genre wasn't as robust 20-25 years ago that it is today...so it was a bit harder and i was reading in the adult section of the community library when I was in elementary school still

Posted on Mar 22, 2012, 6:15:19 AM PDT
DeeG says:
I get very squeamish when violence in books consists of adults deliberately hurting children, particular in books for younger children. I loathed the character of Dolores Umbridge in Harry Potter because of that, though I don't know if she would be such a standout evil character to kids, in terms of all the other evil characters. It's easier to accept violence in fantasy or sci fi books though, than it is in more contemporary, and it really depends on the child. Some of my daughter's friends were reading The Hunger Games when they were 10, but I'd read it and knew it was too much for her. We talked about it and I told her if she wanted to read it, she could, but I also told her about some of the bad things that happened, and she decided not to read it. Still hasn't and doesn't want to see the movie

Posted on Mar 22, 2012, 9:09:35 AM PDT
It all depends on the kid, and also I think how explicit/graphic it is. I def think this is a case where reading the same books as your kids is key. Reading & discussing, of course. When I was in middle school, I started reading adult books. By the time I was in high school, my parents had no restrictions on what I read, although they would usually read the same books I did and we would discuss. If I thought a book was too much, I stopped reading it. Whereas if my parents had forbidden it, then I probably would have finished it no matter what just because I wasn't supposed to.

If I look at what my kids like - they love The Nightmare Before Christmas, even though the cast is made up of mostly monsters (they do love monsters), but most of the monsters are "nice" so they like it. Neither one will watch The Grinch WHo Stole Christmas. He's too mean and they refuse to have anything to do with it.

The other day, my daughter thought it would be hilarious to grab some of the books off my shelf to read. (Funnily enough, she left all of the romances alone.) She did grab Game of Thrones. I'm pretty open-minded, but GRRM is way too advanced for a first grader. ;) SO I grabbed another book off the pile, this one a kid's book, and told her that it had magic in it. She thought that a fair trade. We have a rule that when she can read and discuss the kids books, then we can move up the YA levels, then adult books.

Posted on Mar 22, 2012, 11:31:39 AM PDT
My mom couldn't keep up with my reading, and I was allowed free rein. I ran into some things I don't think I was quite ready for as a result. I tackled Dragonsong by Anne McCaffrey when I was 7, and I was very disturbed by the violence in the beginning. But I simply put it down and left it alone; no harm done. When I picked it up again as a teen, I remember thinking how tame it was compared to the classics we'd been reading at school :)

Posted on Mar 23, 2012, 4:03:56 AM PDT
I just finished reading the Hunger Games trilogy. The series is graphically violent; so much so, that I was actually pretty disturbed with some of it. The recommended age group for this series is 7th grade and up. My kids aren't that age yet, but I imagine I actually would let them read these books AFTER I let them know about the violence, and after some long discussions about the real implications of violence.

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2012, 4:05:20 AM PDT
LOL. I had to laugh when you said your first grader picked up AGOT. GRRM is way too advanced for a lot of adults as well!

Posted on Mar 23, 2012, 7:19:21 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 24, 2012, 10:44:59 AM PDT
When my kids were in elementary school I was pretty strict on weeding out books with violence. I also made sure there was no explicit sex in the books they read as well. I was and still am, of the opinion that adult topics shouldn't be read by children who are too young to fully understand those topics. By the time they were in middle school, I relaxed my criteria some. As long as the violence wasn't graphic or the sex explicit, I pretty much let them read whatever interested them. My boys were into science fiction so there was violence but not so much sex! I put no restrictions on their reading when they reached high school.

I got a late start on reading because I couldn't see the big E on a vision chart. Of course I didn't realize what I saw wasn't normal and it wasn't detected until I was in 4th grade. Up until then my parents had been told I was "slow" and not to expect much from me. I got glasses and learned to read in just a few days. Because it was something that I had always wanted to do but had been unable to accomplish, reading because my passion after that. I read anything I could get my hands on. My parents were so happy that I could finally read. But they still monitored what subjects I was allowed to be reading about.

ETA - to correct the many mistakes I made!

In reply to an earlier post on Mar 23, 2012, 8:00:28 AM PDT
She loves maps, and a lot of fantasy books start with maps, so I can see why she chose it. But yeah, not ready for that one. ;)

Posted on Mar 27, 2012, 1:13:51 PM PDT
Wayward says:
It really depends on what type of violence it is and how it is represented. Gratuitous violence isn't appropriate for young kids. I think it's used in some YA work because teen boys respond well to gratuitous anything (there's actually a psychological basis for that, something about the way their brain is wired) but younger kids aren't ready for that.
The benefit to reading is that once they start to feel overwhelmed, kids will instinctively put the books down. Unlike movies, books can only reveal what you create in your inner eye. So if kids are reading something that is more information, or more violence, than they can take in, their subconscious can kind of filter it out. I know I used to skip whole passages in books (sometimes I still do) if the content was too much for me, too graphic or beyond my maturity level. Of course, back then, I didn't know it was a maturity level thing, just that I was uncomfortable.
I've notice the same thing with my daughter. She will return books to the library when she's at the very end just because the action is too much. Or she'll hand a book back to me that came highly recommended because some language made her uncomfortable.
Sometimes violence is a necessary part of the plot. Other times, it's too extreme. Luckily, with books, readers have a lot more control over what they 'see'.

Posted on Apr 1, 2012, 3:55:54 PM PDT
Allow me to play the role of devil's advocate here and ask the following questions: If the justification for preventing students below a certain age from reading books that contain "inappropriate" levels of violence (or any other "grown-up material) is that they're not able to contextualize or understand the topics contained therein, how then are we to expect them to develop appropriate understandings of those topics? If a child is curious about something, aren't we best served as a society by encouraging them to learn about that something? If that something is violence, aren't we better off guiding their learning about this worldly reality by framing it with other readings?

For my own part, I was a voracious reader growing up, and by middle school had begun to read Stephen King (Cujo, Salem's Lot) and Michael Crichton (Sphere, The Andromeda Strain). All contained some--alright, a lot--of violence. And yet, here I sit, twenty years later neither a serial killer nor a social outcast. Rather the opposite, in fact, as I was encouraged during my reading to question the behaviors of the characters, their motivations, the outcomes. Violence is a reality in our society, it exists. Shaping attitudes about violence can begin the moment a child is exposed to it. It won't be when they pick up a book. It'll be when they see a fight at school or read the newspaper or watch the news. Is our role as parents to protect our children from the world around them or to prepare them for its realities and provide them the tools they'll need to shape those realities?

In reply to an earlier post on Apr 2, 2012, 6:11:56 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 2, 2012, 6:12:19 AM PDT
Sgt. Jones,

I think that you've made some valid points that I agree with if you're taking the age and maturity level of the child into consideration.

I don't think early elementary school age children should read books with any violence depicted in them. By the time a child is in 4th to 5th grade, books with a 'bad guy' and a 'good guy' engaged in some sort of conflict are very popular. I think that some violence is totally appropriate as long as the consequences are discussed. As the child ages and matures, the level of violence that they are capable of understanding, processing, and comparing to the values that they have been taught, increases.

I think that maturity level is more important that chronological age and that as parents we have an obligation to our children to limit their exposure to topics that are beyond their capabilities of understanding. Then we must talk to them about what they have read. Those conversations enable a parent to know how their child is reacting and when it is appropriate to introduce more mature topics.

I think that it is our responsibility to prepare our children for the realities of world in which they live. We guide them and teach them the values that we hold dear. Part of that responsibility is making sure they feel safe and secure in their world. I believe that it is important to allow them time to be children, carefree and innocent, before the harsh realities of the world are heaped on their shoulders. IMHO, introducing them to mature topics only when they are emotionally ready for them is part of making their world safe and secure.

Posted on Apr 5, 2012, 9:06:33 AM PDT
Huh, violence in children's books--and how much is too much--is not something I've ever really thought about before. But to say that books for children younger than ten should contain no violence whatsoever is a little harsh, I think. I know I read the Chronicles of Narnia when I was around seven or eight (that's about second or third grade, for those who want to compare reading with violence grade-wise), the same age as the character Lucy in the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The entire series is riddled with violence--wars, quests, treachery by a king's trusted counselors, etc. etc. etc. Of course, it's not graphic violence, but it is there. People die, right there on the page, with no beating around the bush. The consequences and horrors and sorrow that comes from violence are also there, told in such a way that even a young child can understand it.

I've read much of C.S. Lewis's works, not just his fiction (though of course nowhere near all of his works), and in one he discusses children's literature. He hated the fact that several authors and publishers only wrote what they thought was "appropriate" for children in terms of vocabulary, violence, topics, and themes. I agree with him on that. Children should not only read stories about friendships and funny stories that happen in school. They are capable of understanding violence and the consequences of what happens in the world around us, sometimes better than us adults, at much younger ages than we give them credit for.

Now, the graphicness and the way in which violence is portrayed is something that should be a concern when deciding what is and isn't appropriate for a child. (That is what makes C.S. Lewis such a brilliant author, in my opinion. He hit that mark perfectly) A ten-year-old girl once asked me, as her teacher and a trusted adult, whether she should read The Hunger Games or a book series called Fablehaven. I knew her fairly well, and I told her that I thought she'd enjoy Fablehaven a lot more now and to save The Hunger Games for a few years (both have violence, but different kinds of violence and portrayed in very different ways). She tried to argue with me, saying she'd heard The Hunger Games was really really good, but I repeated that she'd enjoy Fablehaven more and, if she didn't believe me, to have her parents read The Hunger Games and ask them. So is all violence bad? No. In fact, sometimes it's necessary. But the level and graphicness of the violence and its purpose is what should be considered.

Posted on Apr 10, 2012, 6:40:25 PM PDT
Dan Cuoco says:
Violence is always a sensitive issue in books, especially books for children. I teach fifth grade, as well as write, so it's something I'm constantly dealing with.

My issues with violence more stem from video games and television. Sure, I played video games as a kid...but it was Mario. Kids today are playing games that are very graphic, and frankly, glorify war. They think it's cool. A majority of my fifth grade boys either want to be basketball stars, or marine snipers. Don't get me wrong, it's great to serve your country...but kids have these ideas for the wrong reasons. They no longer understand the concept of death. Video games are dehumanizing...what happens when you die? You get another life. I remember last year, my class was reading about the Challenger. Near the end of the story, I had the actual video to show my kids. I warned them before hand that if they wanted to leave the room, I would understand, but that they were literally going to see the rocket explode. Immediately, three boys in the class blurted out "cooool!" Yeah...we had a good, long talk about that one. I think parents need to monitor what their kids are playing more. What kids are watching on TV has changed a whole lot in the last ten years, too.

As for books, it's not always a question of what, but how. That is, there will always be violence in books, and in some kids books, too. But how does the author explain it? At a young age (that is, middle grade and lower), I feel it's more appropriate to say that a character dies, or is killed, and skip the gory details. You can explain how, to the extent of something such as the character was stabbed and they died...well, that's okay in middle grade, in my opinion.

As children get older, such as high school, they are going to deal with more adult topics and situations. The Hunger Games is a perfect example here. It's written for teens. It goes into quite a bit more detail about how the characters die, but still isn't super graphic. It's an appropriate level for the intended audience. (Honestly, what horrifies parents so much is the concept of kids killing other kids, which it seems many readers in the age group still have trouble understanding, and I think parents should take the opportunity to talk about how horrible it is.)

I feel that, in later teenage years, such as the end of high school, students need to be exposed to more graphic situations and violence...as long as the author's writing accurately portrays why it's so terrible. It should shock students, not make them think it's cool. Think about Lord of the Flies, for example. That story, and the way some of those children died, terrified me as a 15 year old, and I thought that was a good thing. That's what book should do to someone. If a student thinks it's cool, clearly either they aren't mature enough for the content, or the author missed the mark.

I guess, in summation, K-8 YO should be limited violence, middle grade is that idea of the "what, not the how," and high school should be exposed to more adult literature that can really make them think critically about what they're reading.

Dan Cuoco

Posted on Apr 13, 2012, 4:52:04 PM PDT
There is war violence then there is entertainment violence like the Hunger Games. Books like that shouldn't be written and let children have a readily available source for them, but then again you have kids playing M rated games their parents have purchased for them. It is our society being further degraded as the boundary getting pushed by the new and latest release into the media. But then again, I am a reader of the uber-horror genre and shouldn't force my opinion on anyone. And I wouldn't recommend any of those authors on this forum.

Posted on Apr 13, 2012, 7:02:56 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Apr 13, 2012, 7:05:51 PM PDT
Violence in children's books is a rough call, but it really depends on so many things.
The child's maturity level is key. There are some things that my older child was ready for as a grade school student that my younger one was not. Many fairy tales are violent, but it's not graphic or it's fantastical. But they were also used as teaching tools for ages. For instance, the boy who cried wolf and little red riding hood both have people being eaten. But the lessons are don't lie or trust strangers too much.

Which brings up another two points: is the violence graphic or without purpose? You don't want the violence more graphic than a child can handle, but again that depends on the child. Children do need to know that bad things can happen, otherwise they grow up not believing that anything bad will ever happen to them. Too much bubble wrap is just as damaging as too much information. Violence just for violence's sake is never good, but you also don't want little Johnny growing up thinking that slavery, for instance, just meant you couldn't leave and didn't get paid. There is a big difference between slasher-film violence and a good vs evil struggle like in Star Wars or Lord of the Rings.

So, I pretty much monitored heavily up through middle school, loosened a bit more in junior high and by high school I pretty much gave them free rein - but interestingly enough, they pretty much knew by then what they should and shouldn't read or see and I had no problems. The eldest made it through as an Honor's student and graduated with an "A" average and is now studying Engineering, so I think it worked. Youngest is not as academic, but is still doing well and can be trusted.
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Discussion in:  Children's Books forum
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Initial post:  Mar 21, 2012
Latest post:  Apr 13, 2012

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