I suggested in an earlier post that Authors, who are in a unique position of power, have a moral duty to ‘Do no Harm’ to their young audiences by thinking very carefully about what they choose to write about. My main concerns are the increasing amount of violence and graphic descriptions of violent and gruesome deaths in kid’s books.
Questions that arise from decreeing this ask ‘how much violence is too much?’ ‘can violence be justified if it is ‘dealt’ with in an effective manner by the story teller and has a realistic impact on the protagonists?’ ‘Should any author believe that they are equipped with the ability to then guide their readers with through violence?’
Here is part of my answer, which is yet another question: How can we, as adults, answer this question? Another part of my answer is this: We can’t, because: Adult perception of what is an ‘acceptable’ level of violence, is flawed.
This is why:
1.a. Children are a blank slate until they are exposed to images, mental or physical.
b. Repeated exposure to violent images has a negative effect on the mental health and wellbeing of the young.
c. Repeated exposure of such images also leads to desensitization and the young person may cease to be aware of the negative effects the images are having upon them. It may take stronger and harder images to garner a response from that person.
2.a. Adults are the gatekeepers for what kids read and see. This occurs in the form of parental guidance, and in the creation, production and distribution of educational and entertainment images through books, TV and film.
b. Adults are themselves, desensitized by images they have been exposed to during the course of their lives. This may have occurred through repeated exposure to violent images on TV, film, life experience and in literature itself.
c. Adults are desensitized gatekeepers: The Author (usually an adult) is desensitized. The literary agent, taking the author on for representation, is desensitized. The publisher is desensitized. The book distributer is desensitized. The parent, buying from desensitized book shop owners is desensitized.
The fact that adults are themselves desensitised by exposure to violence in their own lives impacts on their ability to choose what they think a child or young person, can cope with and should be able to cope with.
Conclusion: It follows that adult perception of what is an acceptable level of violence for a kids book, is flawed.
Is Parental Interference a solution?
Perhaps when becoming a parent, one has the capacity to become re-sensitized, in tune with the innocence of their children. Could this put parents in a position to clearly judge what their children can cope with? Perhaps on an individual level, yes, and parents can be actively involved in the choice of their children’s reading material. This would include researching potential books and even reading them themselves before letting their children read them.
But that doesn’t stop the production and distribution of violent books. The irony is, I’m sure many of the Gatekeepers are themselves parents. It would be too optimistic to rely on and trust that parents may be more ‘sensitized’ than non-parents, especially when big business and big bucks are involved.
Take a Step Back…
In my mind, the only solution is to take a step back and seriously reconsider what we are doing as writers, as agents, publishers (and of course as movie and video game makers, but that’s another story) to our young readers, particularly our young adults.
I would like to call upon all children’s authors, literary agents, publishing houses and bookshops to consider the following questions:
- What stories are we trying to write and why? (Stand back from ‘trends’…trends are only there because we, as adults PUT them there).
- Where does the inspiration to include repeated motifs of violence come from?
- Is it possible to write a page turning mentally challenging adventure/coming of age story without reference to violent scenes?
- What makes a kids/young adult’s book “good”?
- How do you think a kid aged 5, 8, 12, 14 and 18 would answer this?
If you are a writer, literary agent, publisher or parent reading this, how would you answer these questions? What books did you most enjoy when you were a child/young adult?
You may enjoy my earlier article: Violent Deaths in Kids Books: Authors ‘should’ aim to Do No Harm to Young Readers and Time to Write the Violence out of Kid’s Books: Article for Generation Next