DISCUSSION: Parental Advisory for books

This is a new segment that I hope to start up where I’ll have a topic that I’ve done a little research on, and then hopefully we can get a nice discussion going.

Today’s topic: Parental Advisory for books.


Anyone who has read any of my reviews will notice that I include a short review on content at the end. Basically I list a level (ranging from none to explicit) for four categories: language, violence, sexual content, and smoking/drinking. I’ve made a personal decision to be a little more careful about what kind of content I read, and I supply this information because I think it could be helpful to others.

Something that I’ve wondered about is why don’t books have parental advisory labels or ratings already? Thinking about other forms of media, most come with ratings (ex. movies, music, video games). However, in researching this topic, I was surprised to find that these ratings are not actually mandatory (at least for music and movies, the article I read didn’t say anything about video games). Movie ratings were described as being “de facto mandatory”. Which means, legally it’s not mandatory, but practically it is. This is because many theater chains refuse to show movies that are not rated (which would significantly cut into profits). I do wonder if the popularity of RedBox will have any effect on this, but that’s a completely separate discussion. For music, it’s completely voluntary and there’s little regulation. “Explicit content” has no specific definition and it’s up to the artists and their labels to determine whether their album falls under that category and if it does, then they have to decide whether or not to label it.

The article that I looked at from E Online listed a couple of reasons why books are not and should not be rated. The first is that unlike someone choosing a movie or video game, someone choosing a book can talk to a librarian or someone working at a bookstore to determine whether or not the content is appropriate. Honestly, this seemed like a really weak argument to me. Word of mouth works really well for books, but not for movies or video games? Meh. Not seeing it. The second argument definitely held more weight. The article talked about the sheer volume of books that are published every year versus the number of movies. I see how this could be problematic. But how many people read through a book before it’s published by a major publisher? I’m genuinely asking this question because I don’t know. But if enough people are reading through it before publication, it seems like they could each submit a rating for it and then there could be some system for combining the ratings or something like that.

Okay, so maybe by now you’re convinced that we could hypothetically have a parental advisory or some sort of rating system for books. Here’s the question: Should we do it? If not, do you feel that other forms of media should be unrated as well? Why? If you do think we should have parental advisory, why? Do you think that rating books is practical or not?

Please, I’d like to hear from everyone but BE KIND. In the end, we’re just a bunch of people who love books but probably have different opinions–especially since this issue does not have a right or wrong answer.



26 thoughts on “DISCUSSION: Parental Advisory for books

  1. I’m not really in favor of rating a book. Is it just me, or does that smack a little of censorship? Also, doesn’t the blurb often say something about the content of a book? I just remember not being “allowed” to read adult books at the library until my Mom got them to let me take them out – the books in question were Jane Austen, and I was 9 years old. I read at a really high level at a really young age – and yes, I did understand them. Maybe that’s why I feel it could be censorship?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have seen some books listed with “Mature content suitable for ___ age”. But I’ve only seen that on Amazon (but I haven’t been paying super close attention to other places) and only for a few books. I totally see how it could be seen as censorship, but would you say that having ratings on movies is also censorship? That’s what I’m mostly curious about…is there a double standard in the media with what’s being rated and what isn’t?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know. Wish I was super-smart; but I understand about movies. Maybe the thought process is that a book is slow reading, and a movie is fast? Just a possibility. BTW, the games that I play all have ratings on them, and you have to be over 18 to buy a bunch of them – I forgot to say that before.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I could see maybe there being a difference between movies/video games and books because books could be considered less visual? I don’t know why that would necessarily make a difference…but maybe?

        Also, do you happen to know if all video games are required to have ratings?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think of the banned books list when ratings come to mind. If anything smacks readers in the face though I think readers do a pretty good job of warning each other online in reviews. It’s it perfect but it’s a start. Buyers/readers can research before buying/reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that’s very true.

      On the topic of the banned books list, something that the E Online article brought up is the book that remains the most banned (according to their source, and keep in mind this was 2012) is To Kill A Mockingbird. Which…doesn’t make much sense to us these days, does it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I think books have no rating when compared to the other media because of the way they’re consumed. Music and movies and video games are generally more obviously graphic because they have visual and audio components, whereas in books that sort of thing is left up to the reader’s imagination in /some/ ways.

    I don’t think that rating books is a particularly good idea, personally. I agree with transforminglifenow that it makes me think of censorship, and I don’t feel we need more of it. I think with books, even more so than movies and music in some ways, your mileage may vary with the content. I think graphic books in general also reach a much smaller portion of the general population, in part because of the sheer number of books proportionally considered in comparison to movies and even mainstream music.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a really interesting point that you raise about graphic books reaching less people. I hadn’t thought of that. And I also agree with the audio and visual components of other media playing a role. It seems like with those things you kind of have to consume the whole thing, but with books, you could hypothetically just skip the “bad” sections while you’re reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes. I think it also has to do with the way we process information. Because we don’t have to put as much effort into processing movies and music and such, I think it becomes easier to accidentally internalize some of the more graphic stuff.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yeah, I think that’s definitely true. I know images can be really powerful…I feel like I heard somewhere that you never really forget something you’ve seen or that images stick around for a really long time or something like that.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I understand the logic behind censorship (re: trigger warnings) but who’s to say what I see is what you see, and likewise to what I’m offended with. Our imagination is one of the weirdest, coolest, indeterminable things ever. Where’s the benchmark (or rather the tolerable ceiling)? Is the point to keep that childhood sparkle? If so, then you better mark books similar to The Land Before Time as R because that shit was borderline traumatizing as a child.

    But let’s just say they wanted to smack a label on each book. I think it’s possible if each publisher does their due diligence and requests a book’s rap sheet (from the author) on what it entails.
    “Sex?” Bam Adult
    “Bullying?” “What kind of bullying?” “Verbal. Highschool teens doing teen stuff.” Bam 14-A. — But then you run into problems that begs whether or not children should have accessible older content (but not too much older, I guess) to read about.

    Once you start carding potential readers to a certain book then you give the power of authority to people who shouldn’t really have it. It breaks what you ought to be entitled to. Of course, I’m not saying let all the kids read about Fifty Shades but that’s where the parents should come in not some third party.

    I can’t talk about the effectiveness of parental advisory but it doesn’t seem like a hard and fast rule–more like guidelines, if anything. I think the reason why movies and video games have ratings it’s because it does the imagining for it’s viewer and is perhaps (although not always) less nuanced. You can say words do that too but there’s certainly more openness for interpretation. For example, there’s a passage in We Were Liars that basically describes the MC feeling as though she’s been shot. As a reader, you know it’s metaphorical value. But if you were to realize that on screen? Surely, you’ll either need the kid with a bullet wound (with or without the weapon in question). Then it could set the precedent ranging from abuse to self-harm and everything in between.

    Point being, while it can be done, advisory ratings doesn’t hold the same merits for books as they would for other mediums. At least, that’s what I can think of at the moment. Surely there are arguments against everything I’ve said here, and if so, please point them out to me.

    TL;DR: I am full of nonsense (as usual). (I also got too lazy to edit LOL sorry for zero coherency.)

    Joey via. thoughts and afterthoughts

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No this is great! I knew I could count on you for a good response. I like what you said about movies and video games doing the imaging for the consumer whereas with books the consumer creates the images themselves. How can you really rate something that’s going to be that subjective? Maybe an author mildly describes a crime scene and I’m imagining blood everywhere, but you read the same passage and don’t imagine as much blood. We would have completely different ratings. There are some things that are pretty concrete, “there are this many of this swear word and this many of this swear word” but most things will be pretty subjective.

      Ultimately it does seem like the responsibility of determining “appropriateness” for children/young teens will fall to the parents as it does for other forms of media.


  5. I can see both sides of this. For one, you can get an idea of what to expect from the genre of book it is. Romance = ahem, is a little obvious… Thrillers = may have a little more blood or action… YA= less swearing and sex. I agree that two people may have different perspectives on what to rate a single book, but I would not mind a little concrete warning. Like you said, “There are 50 uses of **** swear word” and so on, since I would like to avoid those…but that is a personal preference.

    I’ll pose another question for you, too: How many children and their behavior are affected negatively or are encouraged to behave in violent, negative ways after reading books as compared to children who are exposed to video games and movies?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Totally agree with you. I’m not sure what genre you read, but I found a site that does some YA ratings: https://sites.google.com/site/parentalbookreviews/shadow
      I’m not sure how to take their parental advisory for the other categories, but it looks like they do have the swear word tally.

      And that’s an interesting question that you ask…you definitely don’t hear about kids being violent after reading violent books (at least, I haven’t). I wonder if this is because not a lot of kids read outside of their “age group” and so don’t read a lot about violence or if it’s just not as effective as visual violence is. I would be interested to see if young readers reading violent books like the Hunger Games or The Maze Runner has had an effect. Very interesting question.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I think the difference between films and books is that when you are reading a book it is left completely to your own imagination. I have read The Woman in Black and could, to a certain extent, choose to make it as scary or as benign as I wanted – being someone who is easily perturbed by ghost stories I chose to focus on the fact that it merely was words on a page and not an actual ghost. Films, like the film of The Woman in Black, hands all the horror to you on a plate, so to speak, and I think that is why films are rated rather than books being so. However, I do feel that perhaps it would serve people well to label books if they contain a lot of expletives perhaps. I think something like that serves as a pre-emptive warning rather than banning people of certain ages from reading, so people can perhaps make a more informed decision about the kind of content they will be faced with. Therefore I would say that perhaps labelling books if they have explicit language repeatedly, or explicit violent or sexual content could be worthwhile, but not in order to ban certain ages of people from reading it – just as people can choose to pass by a book based on the blurb, so they should be able to pass it by based on the nature of the content.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that idea a lot and I liked that you compared it to using the blurb to make a decision whether or not to read the book. They are both forms of content, so it would be nice (for me at least) to be given that information as well.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. F***, *i*ch, a***ole and more for a 6th grader??

    My daughter was given from Scholastic a suggested book list for her 6th grade year (that’s 11 & 12 years old) three Dean Koontz books were on that list. I was unfamiliar with his actual writing, but trusted that if Scholastic recommended it, it must be fine/safe. By page 22 he dropped a***ole, b***h, f***ing b**** (and that is referring to an 8 year old girl) and more.

    So, who thinks that is OK for my 11 or 12 year old to read??? That is why it needs warnings on it. What teacher/parent/educator can read every word of every page of every book before their child does to be sure it’s appropraite? Just rate them, all it does is inform everyone of content. I can’t believe a rating isn’t already in place. Thanks for this post!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, it’s definitely something that I think a lot of people would appreciate and use. I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to check out the rest of my site, but I try to give ratings on content with each book review (categories are language, violence, smoking/drinking, and sexual content). The books I read are probably a little older than the books your daughter’s currently reading, but this way she’ll have some idea of what she’s getting into. Thanks for reading my post!


  8. As a parent, I’d really like to see a parental advisory on books. I try to read some of them first, but I don’t always have time to read every single book first. Actually, I’d love to see something like the parental advisory section IMDB has for movies–something that lists specific sexual content, language, violence, etc. so that I could make a choice if the book is age-appropriate for my kiddo.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally agree! I’m not saying that libraries or booksellers need to keep certain books from kids, but I think it would be GREAT to have that additional information before going into a book. I don’t know if you’ve taken a look at some of my other reviews, but I do try to add content ratings to all of them (sometimes I add extra info, but sometimes not). I hope that’s helpful for you!


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