Should Young Adult Books Be Rated for Content?

I can see the issue of rating books from two angles. As a teacher, I have to be damn careful what YA books I bring into my sixth grade classroom. Life would be a whole lot easier if I could glance at the rating and determine if it’s even worth adding. Currently, I only add books I’ve personally read and can vouch for. This takes a bit of time. I read slower than ketchup dribbles from a bottle.

Then there’s the writer in me. Would slapping labels on books act as a deterrent to some books with higher ratings (or an attractant, depending on the kid). Is this a form a censorship, as some have said? I disagree with the last point. Just labeling the product doesn’t censor it. Mostly, it limits access.

I certainly don’t think that books need to fall into the categories of movies, where readers will have to pull out an ID to purchase the novel. I would see the system more like what exists now for comic books, video games, and television. An advisory label. That doesn’t bother me too much.

One thorny issue to consider, should this new rating system come to pass, is this: what about indie writers? Would they self rate? Would some rating board come into play? Unlikely on the second count. Who would fund such a board and how could anyone rate the thousands of books that come out daily? That leaves self rating which also means that the authors could play with the rating, raising or lowering, to suit their tastes. Hey, what’s to stop an author from republishing the book with a lower rating if the sales didn’t click the first time? Nothing, really.

This, in itself, points out the ridiculousness of any rating system. In this world of instant publishing, people could circumvent it and manipulate any rating system easily. Even webpages that are supposed to have adult content only ask the user to click OK if they’re old enough. Like that stopped anybody.

What got the ball rolling on this recent round of “rate these books” is the novel Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James. Although this is an adult novel, it started as a fanfiction for Twilight, having Edward and Bela take up a quite different relationship than Stephanie Meyers had intended. When asked to remove the fanfiction from the fan site, James simply posted it onto her site. After reworking the book and changing the characters, she published it (to remarkable success).

The trouble is, it’s still linked to Twilight (no officially, mind you) and the novel attracts droves of young adult readers. In fact the movie will most likely garner an R rating, thus preventing many fans from seeing it. So should these fans even be reading it? Maybe not. But would a rating system really stop them?

Tim Kane

9 comments on “Should Young Adult Books Be Rated for Content?

  1. Just what the world needs another rating system. You have got to be kidding me, please.

  2. No. A rating system won’t stop someone from reading something if they really want to. But it could raise general awareness about a level of adult content in a book that’s supposed to be for young readers. But the enforcing of any standards would be a nightmare. The publishing industry is not the film industry and never will be.

  3. That is a pretty tricky subject, all right. As Elizabeth said, enforcing it would be a nightmare. As an educator, it would be helpful to know if there is any content in a book that is inappropriate for the classroom. As a writer of YA, I am uncomfortable writing sex scenes, excessive profanity, or extreme violence, but would include them if I know it is strictly a book for adults – and there’s the trick. If I do get my adult stuff published, should I use a different name so the kids don’t pick one up, thinking it’s YA, or trust that they will not be browsing the adult section of the bookstore? Should I take it upon myself to include a warning label like ‘this book contains extreme violence and should not be read by children under the age of…’? Would the booksellers even care or bother to check the label? It’s not an easy subject to answer.

  4. yellowjac says:

    Tim Book’s have a way to any reader at any age, first thing they look at is the cover’ If it looks exciting then they might skim thru it and just buy it, most young kids stand in the store looking at them’ Most will look first at the top shelves. Why that’s not for Young Person’s to be viewing them out of reach! Now they want to rate them..What’s next put every book in a paper bag with just a title and type rating book it is. Let’s just read it and if we don’t like it we don’t buy it. Holding on to a dream write what you feel is best for the reader’s you want to read your book’s. Fiction writer here age group eleven and up, Thanks for the input.. Will

  5. I think there’s far worse unrated stuff out there that young adults can access any time they please.

  6. Kim says:

    Isn’t there already a rating system? On the back of books there’s a recommended age range so…

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