Corralling Books and Fiddler Blue have begun a meme to inspire bloggers to engage in conversations. Participants answer the question of the week and then discuss! Even if you aren’t participating formally, feel free to leave a comment. This week’s prompt is:
Is fifteen-years-old too young to be reading Fifty Shades of Grey?
I haven’t actually read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I have no plans to, so my answer cannot be based on any specifics about the book itself. However, I think the question people really have about the book is: Is there a certain age where it isn’t appropriate to read erotica (particularly erotica that features sexual acts that aren’t necessarily considered mainstream)?
As far as I can tell, there are two very simple answers to this question. One is: We shouldn’t stop people from reading whatever they want. The second is: Society has general standards about what material is and is not appropriate for children, and giving erotica to minors isn’t something our society currently approves of.
Lacking any other information about a particular fifteen-year-old reader, I would err on the side of caution and choose the second answer. Fifty Shades of Grey is not appropriate reading material for a young teenager. American society puts age restrictions on all kinds of sexual material. Minors are not allowed to see R-rated movies, to enter sex shops, to use “adult websites” on the Internet (with certain exceptions for being accompanied by a legal adult, etc.). Though books are not typically rated for content in the way movies are, I think most of us can tell an “R-rated” novel when we see one.
Of course I’m not advocating ripping Fifty Shades of Grey out of the hands of teenagers or banning them from purchasing the book in an attempt to maintain some level of societal decency. However, I do believe it’s perfectly acceptable for the adults responsible for a particular teenager (parents, guardians, teachers, etc.) to monitor the material that a minor reads. I know some people think it may border on censorship to tell children and teens they “can’t” read something, but we make all sorts of other rules for minors–including the ones relating to what movies they can watch and what websites they can visit that I listed above. Books do not necessarily get a free pass because they seem “more educational” or “worthwhile” somehow than other forms of entertainment.
Basically, my desire would be to defer to the parents/guardians of a particular teenager, who should know more than I do about what material they think their own child should be reading or can handle reading. If a parent told me they were allowing their fifteen-year-old to Fifty Shades of Grey, I would accept that. However, if I were the adult responsible for the teen (school librarian, chaperon at camp, whatever) and had no information about the parents’ desires, I would defer to general societal standards and say fifteen is too young for erotica.