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Banning Books Hurts Youth

Written by Katrina Moncure Jun 01, 2009

A number of news stories have come out lately about concerned groups seeking to ban books they find objectionable or inappropriate for kids, for a variety of reasons. One group in Wisconsin successfully got several teen books banned for depicting homosexuality. In Tennessee, some parents are trying to get books removed from library shelves for discussing sexual abuse, racism, self-cutting, and a number of other issues. They are also trying to remove a book about anorexia believing it would encourage teens to become anorexic. The list goes on.

The National Youth Rights Association opposes these efforts to “shield” teens from supposedly objectionable literature. Teenagers’ minds belong only to themselves and are not there for adults to mold as they wish. The only person who should be making decisions about what books a young person reads is that young person herself. Not her teachers. Not her principal. Not some “concerned” group of citizens. Not even her parents. She, and only she, is the one to make that decision.

However, this goes even further than that. Book bans not only violate a young person’s freedom of information, but also insult them immensely. Contrary to what many sensational news reports may have you believe, teenagers do have working brains and can judge the content of books or other media for themselves and can decide how they personally feel about it. No teen is going to start cutting himself or become anorexic just because he read it in a book. Believing otherwise demonstrates severe lack of understanding of and respect for teenagers, and people with no understanding of or respect for teenagers have no business trying to make decisions for or about them.

Also, perhaps the biggest insult to teens here lies in that they supposedly should be forbidden from reading about these difficult subjects, while completely ignoring the millions of teens who are living these situations every day. These issues are not going to go away if you ban a book, and it dangerously undermines them to think so.

Fine, a 14-year-old girl apparently shouldn’t be reading about sexual abuse? Well, banning the book doesn’t change the fact that she is terrified to go home to her drunken father.

If these people are so bent on “protecting” teens from reading inappropriate subjects, where is the help for the millions of teens who are being abused or have eating disorders or other problems? They care more about whether they’re reading about the issues than if they’re actually going through them! That is not the belief of someone who seeks to protect teens. That’s someone who wants to control them to further a personal agenda.

Many of these banned books are about homosexuality, and there are very, very many homosexual teens who find solace in these books, that these stories speak to their own experiences. They deserve and need that, because sadly, depending on what kind of families or communities some of them are stuck with, the books may be the only support they get, may be the only thing reassuring them that there is nothing wrong with them.

Which just goes to show that these banned books are fueled not only by anti-youth bigotry but also homophobia, misogyny, ableism, and other disgusting bigotries against teens who aren’t perfect little able-bodied, mentally stable, middle class, average weight, cisgendered straight white Christian males. Apparently these bigotries are perfectly okay if the targets are under 18. Thankfully, at least the groups defending these other marginalized groups aren’t buying it, and are on our side on this, but then there’s everyone else, always reaching for any excuse to hold onto their irrational prejudices, to pry into the lives of undesirable others to point fingers and forget their own faults.

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