When I was growing up, my mom's best gift to me was to take me to the library. I am not kidding here. Libraries were like giant candy stores to me. I mean, you could check out books for free? I was astonished and delighted. Sometimes she would take me to the library across the street from our apartment and other times she would take me to the Allerton Avenue library. That was a long walk, but well-worth it. That particular library was heavenly. It was three stories high and really warmed my soul. We went to one other library. I can picture it, but I can't remember where it was. I do remember that we needed to take a bus to get there. That, too, was part of the adventure. Almost always, our trips to the library were followed by a trip to a corner candy store or an ice cream shop. Those are really some of the best memories of my childhood. Granted, some of those libraries aren't around anymore, Neither is my mother, but that's another story -- a significantly less joyous one. What remains, though, are my beaten up copies of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Marjorie Morningstar, and many books from the Nancy Drew mystery series. Anyone remember Nancy? Granted, I'm older now and while I still love to read, shoe stores are now my new candy stores. Just saying...
So you can Imagine my surprise when I came upon this new study by Sarah Coyne at Brigham Young University that found young adult books, bestsellers, in fact, may have more cursing between and within the lines than video games. She even found that when compared to video games, bestselling books may have twice the rate of cursing. YIKES -- twice is a large percentage. An even greater problem is that the swearing characters in these books were also portrayed in a generally positive manner: well-liked, attractive, and wealthier than their less foul-mouthed peers.
A major concern here is that our teens are more likely to mimic characters -- both fictional and real -- who are well-liked. So, are the books that our teens are reading leading to swearing? Should we encourage them to play video games instead? I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle. We should encourage our kids to read like there's no tomorrow, but do a little pre-screening of their book collection. Not every bestseller is rife with popular kids losing their cool. And, while we're at it, we have the opportunity to open up some dialogue with our kids by asking about what they are reading. Who knows? They may tell you about their books in one moment and then about the most recent episode of high school drama in the next.
Sarah Coyne also made the observation that while video games, TV shows and movies may come with warnings about content in the form of ratings, books do not. She also found that many teen novels contain not one, not two, but 38 instances of swearing in just one single book. Hmm. That translates to approximately seven swears per hour of reading. Does this mean that you should run, not walk, to your teen's bookshelf and put the books under lock and key? Absolutely not! Just remember what Dr. Seuss said, "Oh the places you'll go," and remember that books can take your kids to exciting, fun, and stimulating places.