Do you censor what your children see?

It’s no secret that I am a bit partial to a Dawson’s Creek DVD box-set on a winter’s weekend (and if it was, it’s not any more).

As a grown-up woman of almost 26*, some people might think this is not an appropriate thing for an adult to be watching but I don’t care – Pacey Witter is friend to woman at any age, in my book.

But when it comes to kids, we’re supposed to be a bit more careful about only exposing them to age-inappropriate content. It’s a lovely theory but one that simply doesn’t work with Flea, who is what might be termed an “advanced reader”.

Flea recently asked me to take all her Winnie the Witch, Horrid Henry and Enid Blyton books to the charity shop – they’re too young, apparently. These days, Flea prefers Percy Jackson, Dr Who and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, it seems.

Over the summer holidays, Flea raced through the first four Harry Potter novels and only stopped reading because I refused to let her read the final three books – arguing she was too young. I didn’t feel completely comfortable having Flea read about murder and evil, at barely six years old.

“But Mummy, Voldemort is supposed to be evil, and when the children die, they just get up and become spirits and ghosts instead,” Flea argued. "Besides, I watched the movie and I know it's only acting.

Deciding maybe she has a point, this week Flea and I sat down to watch a preview of the last Harry Potter movie on Blu-Ray – and she LOVED it.

Flea thought the action scenes were thrilling, the defeat of Voldemort prompted giggles of glee, and during the battle scenes, she hopped around with her own (makeshift) wand shouting spells and spinning around theatrically.

I loved it too, of course. The film is available in stores from Friday and if you have the option you really MUST buy the Blu Ray with the whole disk of special features, including a documentary about the final days of filming that I guarantee will make you cry – I shed a tear, and I’m basically dead inside. There's a great feature about the role of women in Harry Potter, and really cool deleted scenes and 'making of' features.

I like to make Flea watch the "making of" extras on films so she REALLY understands that it's people pretending, and being filmed. Seeing the bad guys having rubber masks glued on to them makes it fairly clear, I tend to think. 

Still, I can’t help but wonder if I should be censoring what Flea reads and watches, a bit more. Our local librarian told me recently that I am exposing my child to “clearly inappropriate” content, as she refused to loan Flea the book she’d chosen because it wasn’t from the “early reader” section.

I do hold firm on Hannah Montana and High School Musical, which I actually think peddle far more damaging messages to young girls about popularity and appearance and aspiration – but that’s a rant for another day. But I’m fairly happy for Flea to read about monsters and aliens and battles, where good mostly triumphs over evil, and characters are brave and honourable and get to use big swords and magic spells.

I’m interested in where other people draw the line between inappropriate and appropriate content. Do you censor your kid’s books and films? And what sorts of things are you NOT happy for your children to read, or watch? 

 * or thereabouts.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She’s also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world’s coolest ten year old.

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  1. 30th November 2011 / 11:06 pm

    My Mom censors books she gets from the library – she chooses books where the kids in the book are the same age as my kids… No book with eighteen year olds for the twelve year old. I let my kids choose their own books in the library… when they are glaringly inappropriate the kids tend not to be totally absorbed. When my oldest daughter was se7en she insisted on taking out a phoowy looking series on teen girls dorm life… The cover was so appealing and most of the story, if you could call it that, went right over her head. Lesson learnt, make sure the books you grab from the shelf look good and they are readable!!!
    I cannot claim to censor movies so much as just being too lazy to put them on!!! If all my kids spend their entire college years catching up on movies they missed I won’t be surprised, I just never think to put them on!!!

  2. 30th November 2011 / 11:11 pm

    Tops just started reading one of the last three HP books this evening. I warned her that these are scarier than the others she has read, that they left me feeling sad and that if she needed to put it down at any point that nobody would mind. Anyway. She watches Twlight, I figured that they were quite “easy” and that knowing Tops she was able to cope with what went on. I’ve been told though that the latest film is something which is not suitable for children under 13 by some, one parent claiming he wouldn’t let his 15 year old watch it and others saying it is nothing. I’m going to have to go and suffer through it on my own this weekend to see if it is suitable… pity right?

  3. 30th November 2011 / 11:41 pm

    Great post! I support my ‘writing career’ by working p/t in a children’s library and so I think about this a lot.
    I’d definitely censor the books and films that my children are exposed to, but within that would make decisions based on each child, not just a blanket decision regarding content.
    For example, I was a sensitive little soul to the point that at Flea’s age I found the BFG chilling and had nightmares about the witch in The Wizard of Oz. My sister on the other hand was allowed to read and watch a wider variety of things because she is pretty much a robot.
    I would have been bright and capable enough to read Harry Potter at Flea’s age, but the content would have been upsetting to me. You know Flea best and she is clearly not bothered by the things that would have traumatised another child her age, and can get a lot of enjoyment out of it, so it’s a great decision.
    I’d always censor anything horror (to a certain age), anything without a point, such as mindless graphic slasher violence (for as long as possible) and make sure that above all they are reading and watching a wide range, so that any Disney Princess, find-a-man-and-let-him-take-care-of-you messages are well balanced out, rather than the norm.

  4. 1st December 2011 / 6:11 am

    Well, Chris is currently reading The Order of the The Phoenix to Rosemary. We were initially only going to go up to Prisoner of Azkabhan, but caved in the end and she got The Goblet of Fire. We’d had concerned about the death, but she dealt with it very well. The big one in this book may well have more of an effect. We’ll have to see. Of course, being read it, rather than reading it herself, means Chris can deal with any issues as soon as they come up. But I would think Flea’s perfectly capable of coming to you to talk about anything that bothers her in the books. The main thing Chris is encountering is boredom at some of the relationship stuff and also at some of the longer descriptive passages. I wonder if, when reading herself, Flea might skip those sections?
    We’re very insistant that Rosemary has to read the books before watching the films – for most things, anyway.
    I think you can judge for yourself what Flea can cope with. I’m definitely outraged by the librarian – sounds like she’s making an arbitrary decision, rather than helping you by suggesting more advanced books that would be better suited – surely there are a few out there? I wonder if there’s a market for more advanced books that cover less inappopriate material? Though, I suppose the problem there, as Eleanor points out, is that inappropriate is different for different children. Hmmm. With eBooks, though, perhaps it could be financially viable.
    I’d be interested in seeing a post about the ones she does like, as I think Rosemary will be the same, once she gets to the proper free reading stage.

  5. 1st December 2011 / 7:39 am

    My boys are only just 4 and 3 and I am struggling with letting them see anything outside of CBeebies. I censor books as I read them. Mr Jelly is just awful, full of murder and fear – I miss those bits out. Andy and I sat and watched Cars 2 last night and decided that it was too violent for them. I don’t think they’re missing out, they’ve got plenty of time to see shooting and explosions when they’re older. This only applies to my children, of course. What anyone else does is up to them. I still read Enid Blyton!

  6. 1st December 2011 / 9:26 am

    That’s an interesting approach to books – Flea likes it when kids are the same age as her in books!
    I am WAY stricter on anything to do with romance or tweenage nonsense – I think Flea is way too young for that, although fortunately most of those sorts of things are very clearly ‘female’ marketed, so Flea isn’t interested.

  7. 1st December 2011 / 9:30 am

    The thing about Harry Potter is (I think) that it depends on how the child views it. Flea very clearly differentiates between natural and supernatural and is quite happy that in a supernatural world it’s all pretend so you can have monsters and deaths and magic and evil people and it’s just something someone imagined. So I’m happy to let her read about it, or watch it in a movie because it so obviously doesn’t bother her.
    With the latest movie, I was anticipating her being a bit scared by it but actually watching it myself for the second time, I thought – some people, including kids, die. So long as your children are ready for that, there’s nothing gruesome or explicit in the slightest. Even Snape’s death is only visible in an obscured manner. . there are a few bits of exposition where Flea got a bit bored, but for the most part she loved it.

  8. 1st December 2011 / 9:32 am

    Yep, I do censor sexual content or inappropriate gender role models, and I filter for moral content. What I’ve found with Flea is that although I was VERY strict until she was around 5, she actually isn’t especially upset or worried by supernatural content – she accepts goodies and baddies and people being killed by spells.
    Ultimately she’s reading something aimed at 9 year olds – it’s not as though she’s reading adult thrillers, so there are no guns or real violence. But I know of other children her age who can’t deal with any level of peril or nastiness – which I think is just a personality thing.

  9. 1st December 2011 / 9:33 am

    we are really twins – I am also 26*
    Can Flea stop being so flipping advanced – if she ever meets the twins they are going to look simples.
    *or thereabouts

  10. Nikki
    1st December 2011 / 9:33 am

    Don’t the Harry Potter films have an age limit of 12 plus? My duaghter age 6 has asked to see it, but I said no – that it was 12 for a reason. How did you get round that with her?

  11. 1st December 2011 / 9:35 am

    I’ve ‘allowed’ Star Wars, Indiana Jones we watched X-Men First Class recently. In all these instances I have watched the films first, and always sit through them with my child to censor/explain/act out at will. Bored at some of the TV my son likes I’ve also introduced him to box sets of the A-Team, stuff I don’t mind watching. but perhaps judged as too strong for other children. I was talking to an ‘educational professional’ recently about children observing violence and play-acting out similar scenes. They made the point that in order to empathise with other people and their situations, they must develop very strong imagination skills. And sometimes films judged as influencing children negatively can actually arm them with these skills so they can act positively and be sympathetic to the plight of others.

  12. 1st December 2011 / 9:35 am

    I definitely think there’s a market for books aimed at children Flea’s age who are reading at a higher level, it would make my life a lot easier.

  13. 1st December 2011 / 9:37 am

    I think there’s a world of difference between 3 and 6. When Flea was 3, I was much stricter, as you might remember – we didn’t watch any TV at home, and at other homes, she only ever watched CBeebies. Certainly no cartoons or violence of any kind.
    But I think as children grow, you make decisions on what’s suitable for them and their personality. Flea’s Dad is a huge sci-fi fan and so has encouraged her to be interested in superheroes and the like, and what I’ve found with her is that she actually isn’t worried in the slightest about a supernatural battle of good versus evil, but she’s far more likely to get upset about someone being unkind to someone else on Come Dine With Me, if I’m watching it and she’s in the room.
    Kids are weird, basically.

  14. 1st December 2011 / 9:38 am

    She’s a child of two writers, it was pretty inevitable she’d be a good reader. If it helps, she has inherited my general incompetence in many other areas.

  15. 1st December 2011 / 9:41 am

    The 12 certificate actually means the film can be viewed by children under 12 only if accompanied by an adult. It’s generally because films contain peril – which some children can find very frightening.
    I have told Flea that she is free to watch any U certificate film she likes but that I make the decision on whether she can view anything that’s PG or 12 certificate. There are very few 12 certificate movies she’s seen – Harry Potter is one, and the other that springs to mind is Percy Jackson. They’re both things she has read about, and they’re both supernatural – so she’s aware the people involved in the stories are not ‘real’ people as such, and it’s about magic and fantasy, which she understands and is okay with.
    That said, I’d never let her watch Hannah Montana, High School Musical or a whole host of other movies aimed at kids slightly older than her. And we’ve never watched anything containing ‘real’ violence between ‘real’ people.
    I think ultimately it’s about your judgement and your child and knowing what’s likely to traumatise them.

  16. 1st December 2011 / 9:47 am

    Ooh, we’ve not watched Star Wars yet although I was eyeing up the blu-ray box set in the supermarket last week – I think it might be a Christmas purchase.
    I completely agree that it’s about sitting and watching with your child – we have big conversations during films about why that character did that mean thing, or why someone is sad – it’s all a learning experience.
    And yes, I’d much rather sit with Flea and watch Percy Jackson or Harry Potter, and explain it, than leave her to her own devices in front of some of the tosh that gets pumped out on Nickelodeon.

  17. Laura
    1st December 2011 / 10:22 am

    When I was little I had a really advanced reading age too and even though I still loved The Saddle Club books and all the rest, what happened was my yr6 teacher and then in yr7 my high school librarian would start putting more classic books in my hands; Pride and Prejudice became my favourite book at age 11 and I’ve loved it ever since. I think there are some amazing classics that aren’t too ‘adult’ in storyline but in terms of reading they’re just that little bit more difficult and you really have to concentrate. So technically my books were never censored but my mum used to freak out when I read my older sister’s magazines…

  18. Nikki
    1st December 2011 / 11:38 am

    Thanks Sally – I wasn’t sure about the rating system. Was curious as I know you have strong feelings about children using Facebook – which is supposed to be 13+ I think.
    My two have seen High School Musical – which actually has some great positive messages in it about being comfortable in your own skin – and some silly ones too. They have also seen Pirates of the Caribbean 1 – which is brilliant – they love how funny Captain Jack is.
    I think Harry Potter would terrify mine as they just wouldn’t get it at all. Flea’s development and understanding is enhanced by her reading the stories too and my 5 and 6 yr olds are still getting to grips with Winnie the Witch!

  19. 1st December 2011 / 11:43 am

    Fascinating. Think I must’ve seen on Twitter that you were watching this together and was provoked, cos my lads have watched the first two films and are desperate to see the rest but there’s no way I’d let them. Got me thinking. It’s less about whether it’s age-appropriate though, to me, and more about the fact that the films and books were created years apart, and the idea is that you grow up with Harry and the gang. A rite of passage thing, I suppose. Our teenaged babysitter loves that she waited years between each one and literally grew up with the story and the building excitement of each film, so I’m adamant that they’re not racing through the lot like rabid consumers at four and five years old.

  20. 1st December 2011 / 12:45 pm

    For me there’s a massive difference between sitting down with Flea to watch a slightly scary movie together, based on books she adores, and letting kids loose on an unsupervised link to anyone in the world with an Internet connection and hoping for the best – and one that’s controlled by a company as lax with our privacy as Facebook seems to be!
    But I agree – Flea knew the stories already and we talked about what might happen and actually there are 1 or 2 scenes in other HP movies that I make her cover her eyes for – but on the whole I’m confident she differentiates between fantasy creatures and real people, very easily. Weirdly, though, I think she’d be too scared to watch Pirates of the Caribbean – she’s not so good with skeletons and pirates.
    Kids are all a bit bonkers, basically, aren’t they?

  21. 1st December 2011 / 12:47 pm

    My Mum didn’t like me reading Just17 when I was 12, which still makes me laugh a bit.
    Where I really, genuinely struggle with Flea is that she has a reading age of 10, but the comprehension of a just 6 year old – so stories that are too complex, or have too many characters, or rely on emotional responses she doesn’t understand yet are all a no-go.
    I suspect that if Flea re-reads Harry Potter at 10, she will have a very different understanding of the story but at this age the good versus bad, and kids who can do spells has her completely transfixed.

  22. 1st December 2011 / 12:49 pm

    Oh, that’s a fascinating view. I’d never thought of it as being a benefit to ‘grow up’ with characters before. I suspect for me, I think Flea will re-read them as she’s older and have a slightly different experience of the books and films, every couple of years. And honestly, we’re just struggling for stories that will challenge her, that don’t come off as girls books, and will not introduce her to things I strongly feel she’s too young for – and HP is one of a relatively small number of options I have at the moment!

  23. Steve Earl
    1st December 2011 / 1:11 pm

    I’ve found this debate hinges on Ben 10 with parents. We let the kids watch it, but talk to them about it too and haven’t seen any change in behaviour. Beyond talking us into blowing a fortune hiring a big camper van to tour around the US of course.

  24. Freya Hardy
    1st December 2011 / 9:22 pm

    Perhaps this is a little idealistic of me (my girls are two, so I have all this to come really) but I like to think that as long as they are presented with a balanced range of reading materials and have strong moral guidance at home, they should be able to watch/read things like Harry Potter, or even Hannah Montana (if they ABSOLUTELY MUST) and understand that it’s fiction. As a kid I read widely and probably inappropriately but I always had my mum and dad to talk to if I didn’t understand something, or needed a reality check. My parents knew what I was reading and were always ready to discuss the themes raised, even if they were difficult. Basically, I’d rather they read/watched things with my knowledge than wait til they’re at a friend’s house where I can’t provide the balanced view.

  25. 2nd December 2011 / 12:02 am

    Actually, I think that makes perfect sense!

  26. 2nd December 2011 / 1:52 am

    Well, you’re talking to the person who let Zack, at 4 years of age, watch the first 3 terminator movies. In fact, he only didn’t watch the last one because “there’s no good Terminators in this one, Mummy!”, which I thought was rather cute!
    I don’t think he’d bother about watching the last Harry Potter (though I sat down and watched it this morning as soon as I got back from taking the kids to school… late. *cough*)… loved it!
    Oh, and I keep having to delete from my iphone youtube favourites a compilation of mortal kombat of all the different characters finishing (ie very gruesome these days) moves. *That* is too much ick for me to be comfortable with Max or Zack watching. >_<

  27. Debbie
    2nd December 2011 / 1:18 pm

    M is 6 years old too and and i totally agree with you! she is a avid reader and would read all night if i didn’t put a stop to it, however she is also very “girlie” and although has dabbled in reading Harry Potter it doesnt really have enough sparkles and pink it for M. Her new fav is Jaqueline Wilson which i am sure is aimed at older kids and although i am sure she writes very thougtfully and the books are most def aimed at children.. I just cant help thinking they are a little inappropriate for her.
    Are we just in an age where our kids are going to grow up far quicker than we did and we should accept it?? I am not sure mother told me that by not allowing M to read certain books I am holding her back and she wont be streetwise enough for the big streets of london …
    It is a real maze where i really do think that there is no right or wrong answer only what is right for you and what you think your child can handle ….

  28. Chris
    4th December 2011 / 11:27 pm

    To add to what Tasha said, even though the first HP book at least is more… whimsical (?) it begins with the double murder of the hero’s parents and features the deaths of another bad guy (yay!) and a unicorn (boo!). Neil Gaiman has a quote from GK Chesterton at the start of Coraline, another age inappropriate book that Rosemary loved: ‘Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.’
    As for the older child issues, while she is not interested in the relationshippy stuff as much (although, she says to me with a laugh she keeps thinking Ginny is Harry’s girlfriend, so she is listening) the anger that was seen just as adolescent angst is perfectly understandable to a child. What bores her more, I think, are scenes asking her to care about minor characters, especially adults, which is am understandable failure of empathy not understanding. And what really, really bores her is long expository passages and infodumps, things I hate too, especially when I have to read them in my wheezy Dumbledore voice.
    Tasha’s real problem is knowing what age she will let Rosemary watch Buffy.

  29. Jill
    6th January 2012 / 10:50 am

    Apologies for the late comment on this but I’ve only just seen the post. It’s an interesting discussion. From a completely different perspective, I won’t let shows such as Jeremy Kyle be on TV when my 7 month old is around. While he has no idea what the arguements are related to, I don’t want him exposed to the sheer aggression and anger on the programmes.

  30. Susan
    18th January 2012 / 4:19 am

    I came across this post while doing a little Google searching. I am trying to decide at what point I should start paying more attention to what my daughter (who is not quite 2) sees on TV. A good while back I started being sure to turn the channel if I thought something I was watching might be too scary for her (once she got to an age where she would know to be scared) but I tend to watch a lot of TV/movies that many people would deem “inappropriate”. I am still not really sure, but your post made me think back to my childhood.
    As a child my mom did not censor most of what I watched or read. I was allowed to watch anything I wanted except the Simpsons, for whatever reason. I could watch any horror movie I chose, Beavis and Butthead, and talk shows of all varieties, so long as there was no full frontal male nudity or the type of things that go along with it. Reading was just the same; By the time I had reached the 4th grade I had a college reading level and was far more interested in “grown up” books. Some of my favorite authors were (and still are) Stephen King and Alice Hoffman. I remember bringing the book “IT” to school after about my third time reading it and my 6th grade reading teacher skimmed it, then refused to let me use it for class credit. We were required to read 3 books per month from our reading level, but we had none in our school library past an 8th grade level so I had to choose my own and it was always a challenge to find something “appropriate” that I enjoyed. Overall I think censoring children depends a great deal on the maturity of the child.