Teen Reads?

Today when I picked up my twelve-year-old from school, he grumbled that his middle school principal only let him and his classmates watch a G-rated movie during a free period.

"Not even PG," he whined.
"What does PG stand for?" I asked.
"Parental Guidance," he conceded.
"Good. Then your principal did the right thing. He is not your parent."

Granted I don't advocate that my tween watch Barney movies -- and he has seen several prescreened PG-13s -- I do believe that as parents, my husband and I have a role in guiding what our son does and doesn't see, a sort of moral compass. (Though far from agreeing on every celluloid moment, we do have similar values when it comes to films for young teens: nothing too dark, too frightening or too violent.)

Isn't it obvious?

I mean would you let your teenager do drugs, stay out all night, not do his schoolwork, tote guns or watch porn?

So I don't understand all the fuss in the twittersphere about Meghan Cox Gurdon's controversial Saturday article Darkness Too Visible for The Wall Street Journal, where she writes about children's books on a regular basis.

Ms. Gurdon asks:

"How dark is contemporary fiction for teens? Darker than when you were a child, my dear: So dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18... Profanity that would get a song or movie branded with a parental warning is, in young-adult novels, so commonplace that most reviewers do not even remark upon it."

Well, gee, I wouldn't want my kid reading this stuff either.

When I was thirteen, after devouring children's classics and everything by Enid Blyton, whose adventure books I was addicted to for want of a better phrase, I switched straight to adult literary fiction. But even I would sneak in the sexy bits from my father's Harold Robbins paperbacks. Still, he wasn't buying them for me.

Yes, today, kids are different. No, I don't expect my son to read what I did or even to be an avid reader, but I won't push material at him that I deem inappropriate for his age and/or sensibility. This is not to say all Young Adult fiction isn't appropriate, or that books that cover teen angst, real issues or grim realities can't be done well, but after reading through some of the quotes in Ms. Gurdon's article from books in the marketplace, I ask myself: what is the new normal?

Ms. Gurdon writes:

"It is also possible -- indeed, likely -- that books focusing on pathologies help normalize them and, in the case of self-harm, may even spread their plausibility and likelihood to young people who might otherwise never have imagined such extreme measures."

Childhood is fleeting enough -- and so is young adulthood -- and I, for one, will not willingly inflict the new normal on my son. Above all, I'm a parent and an adult, and as such, I will help him make reasonable choices.

I couldn't possibly vet every single teen book out there, so I appreciate that educators, librarians, and those who know their field well, such as Ms. Gurdon, help me do my job better by navigating the dark side.