When I finally got around to reading Wicked (sort of a back story to The Wizard of Oz), I was surprised by the sexual content in the first few pages. Surprised because I’d borrowed it from a 7th grader, and because I’d seen several students reading it in years past.
Another book that surprised me was The Lovely Bones (also loaned me by a student). I’d expected some gruesome parts, but there was a fair amount of sex in it, too.
Is this appropriate reading for 12-to-14-year-olds? Some would argue that it’s no worse than what they see on TV or YouTube, but that’s not a strong argument, because if it’s inappropriate in one form, it’s inappropriate across the board.
It’s hard to predict how middle schoolers will respond to graphic content. Even without seeing pictures, highly visual people will be unable to get certain images out of their minds after reading detailed descriptions. Many students have told me of sleepless nights because they were kept awake thinking about scary or disturbing stuff.
Wise parents will keep in touch with what’s in books and movies being viewed by their young teens. Previewing content before allowing a middle schooler to read/see it is a good idea. Having a discussion after reading or viewing is a must, because if it’s sexual, a 12-year-old will wonder if such behavior is normal.
When I see books about vampire lovers and futuristic mass murderers in my classroom, I ask, “Do your parents know you’re reading this?” The response I hear most often is, “They wouldn’t care.”
I hope that’s not true. I hope most parents care enough to protect their middle schoolers until they’re old enough to handle inappropriate content in a mature and discerning manner.