One mom had a goal when her children were young that she would preview every book before her kids read it. But when her oldest started reading on his own, she quickly realized that her voracious reader consumed books far faster than she could possibly keep up with.
Her goal then became to at least read reviews of each book before he read it. But he would often check out a book at school, read the entire thing during the day, then return it and check out a new one before ever coming home.
It was soon obvious that she could not possibly screen every book he read. It was not a sustainable ideal. But what if he picked up a book with inappropriate content? We’ve learned that even the school library shelves can’t be trusted.
While we do encourage parents to pay attention to what their kids are reading, it’s a nearly impossible task to keep up on it all.
So what are parents to do?
Tips for previewing books
Though it’s not possible to read or review every book your child ever reads, it’s still ideal to have an idea of what your kids are reading.
Here are a few tips:
1. When possible, look at book reviews for required and recommended reading lists. Ask your children to bring books home that they are reading in class. Flip through the book and skim a few random passages.
2. Do random checks of the books your child is bringing home from the school library or reading electronically.
3. Ask your child questions about the book. See our talking points below.
Talking points for discussing books with your child
Again, if your child loves to read, it’s nearly impossible to read every book they ever read. Even if you manage to read reviews for every book, review sites don’t always have the same definition of what’s age appropriate as you do.
That’s why it’s so important to empower your child with a warning about sexual content in books and a plan for what to do when they encounter it.
Here are some talking points:
1. Talk to your child about pornography in an ongoing conversation. Kids need to be equipped with these 3 defensive tools: an age-appropriate definition, a warning and a plan. Emphasize that they are not bad and won’t be in trouble when they are exposed to pornography.
Not sure how to start? Here are some resources to help you approach this topic in age-appropriate ways for kids ages 3-12 and beyond:
- Our most popular free guide How to Talk to Kids About Pornography
- The best-selling Good Pictures Bad Pictures series of read aloud books
- Our parent and teacher-approved Brain Defense: Digital Safety course
2. In your discussions about pornography, be sure to emphasize that it’s not just pictures and videos. Pornography includes animation, video games, and written stories. Come up with a plan for what to do if they are reading a book that has sexual content. The above-mentioned resources will help you make a plan with your kids.
3. Ask your kids about the books they are reading. Use language that’s appropriate for their age. For example:
- What’s this book about?
- What’s happening in the story?
- Tell me about the main characters.
- Is there anything you’ve read in the book that makes you feel uncomfortable?
- For older kids, ask directly if the book contains depictions of sexual acts.
What can parents do if they find sexual content available at their school?
We want to make clear here that we love educators. They are increasingly overburdened with responsibilities. Just like you can’t read every book your child reads, teachers and librarians can’t read every book on the shelves at the school. They rely on approved reading lists from the district or state level and on online reviews. Are there educators who are crossing the line? Probably. But please give the benefit of the doubt and approach educators with kindness when addressing this issue.
Tips for speaking up against sexual content in school books:
1. Be involved at your child’s school before there’s a problem. If you have the time, volunteer at your school in some capacity–help in your child’s classroom, chaperone field trips, be part of the PTA/PTO, help with a club or sports team or a single event at the school. When you’ve established a good relationship with people at the school, it’s much easier to bring up a concern and they’re more likely to take action. We understand many parents can’t spend a lot of time at the school, but anything you can do to have positive interactions there before bringing a complaint will be to your advantage.
2. Calmly and kindly speak with the teacher, advisor, librarian, or administrator.
- If the book is required reading for a class or club, calmly express your concerns to the teacher or advisor. Ask if the book is required by the district or school curriculum or if it is a book the teacher chose themselves. Request an alternate assignment.
- If the book is on a recommended list or found in the physical or electronic library of a school, speak with the librarian. Ask who chooses the books for the list or collection. Express your concerns about the book. Ask for a specific remedy. “Can this title be removed from our school library?”
- If you speak to the teacher in person, be sure to send a follow-up email copying an administrator so there’s a record of the conversation.
- Have a follow-up conversation about the book with the school’s administrator. If the book was chosen by a teacher or librarian at the school, ask for the book to be removed. If they refuse to do so or if it is part of a district-approved curriculum or on a district-approved list, then your next step is to address it with the school board.
3. Do your homework
- Note specific pages and paragraphs that aren’t age-appropriate.
- Enlist other parents to help you look at other books in the course, program or library where the material was found. Talk with the school’s PTA/PTO presidency to see if they will get involved.
- Find out what your school and/or district’s policy is for reviewing books used in classes and libraries. Is there a district-wide approved reading list or can teachers assign any book?
- Start a petition asking for a committee to review the books in question as well as to create a district-wide approved list if there isn’t one already. There are many online petitions available–like Change.org–that make gathering signatures easier than ever.
4. Address your school board
- Find out the date and time of the next school board meeting where you can make public comments. Register to comment ahead of time if needed.
- Enlist other parents to sign up to speak on the topic as well and others who will just come to show they support your statements.
- Prepare and practice your statement. Public commenters are often limited to only a couple of minutes. Be sure to clearly and calmly articulate the problem and cite specific examples. Reading the actual passages makes people uncomfortable and that only strengthens your argument. Watch videos of other parents commenting on this topic as you prepare. In addition to some that were in the news stories we referenced at the beginning of this article, here’s a great example from a mom in Dallas.
- Share your petition asking for a committee to review the books and to create a district-wide approved list. Request to be on that committee.
- Follow up. Return to future meetings and ask what action has been taken to correct this problem.
Demand better for our kids
Books containing graphic, violent sexual content normalize harmful sexual behaviors, and we owe it to our children and our communities to speak up. It’s amazing what one motivated parent can accomplish.
To defend the kids in your life against graphic sexual content in books, remember–
- Converse with your child about the books they read.
- Speak up with civility, grace and conviction when you find books that have sexually harmful content.
- Enlist other parents to help you address the school board.