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But Mom, Everybody's Reading It: A Guide to Kid's Books and Peer Pressure

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I visited my long time hair stylist several months ago and as usual we talked about her children. Because I spent my working life as a teacher and a children's librarian, she often asks me for advice or suggestions about her children's reading related issues. This time she told me her 4th grade daughter was pressing her to read the wildly popular teen novel Hunger Games and she asked my opinion.

Children have always yearned to grow up faster than most parents want them to. In the past, it was far easier to maintain some control over that pace, but in today's technological world it is harder than ever to keep tabs on what children are exposed to. One area that parents thought might still be under their watchful eye was reading. After all, many parents take their kids to the library and see what they check out. Parents also have access to their children's teacher and the books in their kids' backpacks. So what could be the problem with reading? Believe it or not, peer pressure.

Today, parents of children in grades 3-5 complain of being harassed by their children to allow them to read books that were written for teens. Titles like Twilight, Hunger Games, and the later Harry Potter novels. These books were written for young adults who have the age and experiences to understand more mature themes and relationships and to process them accordingly. They were never intended for elementary school children.

However, it's not unusual today to see a 3rd or 4th grader toting around a physical or digital copy of the titles listed above. If they don't have it with them, they are proclaiming for all to hear that they have read it, i.e. they are part of the in-group and are grown up.

Most parents know very little about teen books and acquiesce to the constant whiny entreaties of their child, agreeing to let them read the book. Other parents feel these books are a bit too mature for their child, but think if "everyone is reading it," it must be OK. There are also parents who stand their ground, but the child may well borrow a friend's copy and read it in secret, or download it onto an electronic device. After all, giving in to peer pressure, and finding a way around parents to do it, is nothing new for kids.

If you are able to convince your child to wait to read a particular book you are uncomfortable with, there are some things you can do to take the sting out of the situation. One is to take them on a special outing to a bookstore and buy them a title you both agree on. Another would be a visit to the library where a children's librarian can suggest hot titles that are age appropriate, or books similar to the book they really want to read. Realistically, not all children will be pacified with these options.

If your child is determined to read a "hot" title that deals with more mature themes, you might want to strike a bargain and read it together. You could share one book reading it together, or form a book club where you each have a copy and read a portion, then talk about it. By allowing the child to read the book and sharing that experience with them, you have created a win-win situation. The child wins the chance to read the desired book and gain peer parity (so important at that age). The parent wins the opportunity to share something their child values and to frame that experience. This is your opportunity to make certain the child's questions are answered by a knowledgeable source and impart the values you want your child to come away with.

As for my hair stylist, she settled on the read together option with discussion. She owned an e-Reader, so she downloaded the book on that device and borrowed a physical copy from the library (so they could bookmark and flip back and forth easily for discussion). Her daughter had been asking to use the e-Reader, so as an extra bonus she got to use that device. After reading a certain number of chapters, they would sit down and discuss the story. The result was the mom still felt she could guide her daughter's reading experience, and the daughter was able to read the story she desperately wanted, as well as spend special time with her mom. And because this arrangement was negotiated, the child learned something about compromise as well. Now, that is win-win.

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