Bookish Musings: Should Books Have Content Ratings?

 
 

I know I can’t be the first person to ever discuss this, but it was just something I started thinking about a few weeks ago while commenting on a post about whether sex should be allowed in YA books over at (un)Conventional Bookviews.

It seems to me that content ratings would be helpful in order for readers to find what they want and avoid what they don’t want, but I suppose everything has pros and cons and obstacles that come with it, so let’s get to discussin’!


First of All, What are Content Ratings?

 

You all probably already know this, but just so we’re all clear, I took this definition off of Wikipedia. It’s about films, but this the concept I’m referring to:

A motion picture rating system is designated to classify films with regard to suitability for audiences in terms of issues such as sex, violence, substance abuse, profanity, impudence or other types of mature content.

Benefits of Content Ratings for Books

 

– It’d be easier to find what you like.
– It’d be easier to avoid anything that makes you uncomfortable.
– It’d be easier for parents to choose books they think are appropriate for their kids.

Drawbacks of Content Ratings for Books

 

– It might lead to more censorship in the form of parents stopping their kids from reading certain books or even stopping kids and teens from being allowed to purchase certain books.
– Inaccurate/subjective ratings could prevent people from reading books they might’ve liked.
– It might cause unnecessary drama.
– It might hurt sales for some authors.

Obstacles to Determining Content Ratings for Books

 

– How would it be standardized? These types of things are subjective. What qualifies as an explicit sex scene? How many times must a curse word be used for the book to be considered as having strong language? What’s the difference between mild and graphic violence?
– Who is going to give out these ratings? Movies go through a lot before they’re put on the big screen, but books are just published all over the place because even random people on the street can write a book and post it to Amazon to be sold. It’s not as though every single book can be read by an appointed group of people because there are just too many.

My Thoughts

 

I actually do include info in my book review posts about whether a book has violence, strong language, and sex as well as if there are any possible triggers or mature content such as rape, drug use, etc. Obviously I only read so many books and not every person visits my blog before picking up a book even if it is one that I’ve reviewed, so my inclusion of that info isn’t going to revolutionize the book industry. And even my determination of these things is completely subjective. But I include these things because I know some people may like to avoid (or find) certain things, and I do think the information can be helpful for anyone who does happen to stumble upon my site.

That being said, I can’t see this happening on a national or global level. It definitely would have some benefits, but we can generally get the answers we need from reviews with a bit of effort, or we can even ask questions on Goodreads. But to implement a real system, the obstacles would be too big. There are too many books, it’s too subjective, and it would likely create more problems than it would fix if it was ever put into action. Plus I was held back from reading most non-YA books as a teen by my parents as it was, and I wouldn’t want to implement anything that would create more censorship for others. But of course that’s just my opinion, so now I want to hear yours!

 
 
 

Talk to me!

Do you think books should have content ratings?
Can you think of any benefits, drawbacks, or obstacles I forgot to include?
Do you think such a thing would even be possible?

 

Follow me for more!

Twitter   |   Bloglovin   |   Feedly   |   WordPress   |   Goodreads   |   Pinterest   |   Tumblr

 
 
 
 
 
 

Your Thoughts

 

58 thoughts on “Bookish Musings: Should Books Have Content Ratings?

I'd love if you'd share your thoughts, too!

 

Leave a Reply to Lola Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

 
  1. Christy LoveOfBooks

    Hmm … It might be a good idea if there was something that just said “mild language”, “sexual content”, stuff like that, but I doubt it’ll happen. I read a lot of adult books growing up, so I wouldn’t want to restrict anyone from reading what they want. I know some parents who would appreciate having that info, though. Heck, even some adults for their own reading. You really don’t know what you’ll get with YA anymore.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I mean, that’s why I do include that stuff in my reviews on my blog, but it’s still so subjective, you know? I mean, what I consider “mild” language might be strong to someone else. And sexual content, does it still count if it’s off screen? Or if it’s not really described in detail? It’s so tricky! But of course if there was some sort of standard for that, I’m sure some parents and also adults in general would find it useful.

  2. Geraldine @ Corralling Books

    I didn’t think there was anything wrong with content ratings before I read this article to be honest…then you mentioned the drawbacks, and yeah, it’s a lot more complex issue. Especially how you’ve mentioned it’s unlikely that it could be implemented on a global level. Furthermore, it IS subjective, definitely…AHH so many layers of complexity! I still reckon content ratings would be alright…but only if they’re really vague. Like in Australia (idk if this applies in other countries as well?) we have an M rating, which (i think) means that there are mature themes. Something really broad and general, like “mature themes” would be alright I think :)
    What an awesome, original post, Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly! It definitely has positives, but it also has drawbacks once you actually think about it. Obviously content ratings work to some extent since they’re used on movies and video games, but then, what exactly does “mature themes” encompass, you know? Like, how many curse words? How graphic does the sex have to be? What if it’s off screen? Etc., etc. There’s have to be some actual standards set, I think, for it to even possibly work, but I’m sure that’d just cause a bunch of arguing and drama lol. Thanks!

  3. Lola

    This is an interesting idea and it does make me wonder why movies often have these content ratings, but other media don’t. I actually have a post scheduled about trigger warnings soon and I make a few of the same points, like how subjective they are. Sometimes there are very specific things I don’t like, for example I dislike torture scenes, but if you have a generic violence content rating that doesn’t tell me anything about the exact type of scenes. Recently my boyfriend and I watched the Underworld movies were a lot of people and supernaturals get killed in a graphic manner and I have no problem with that, but as soon as we get a scene with someone putting a needle in someone’s eye I will turn my head away and not watch until the scene is over as I don’t want to see that. It’s hard t make the distinction between those type of scenes with a generic content rating and if you’re getting specific then you have to be so specific that you need way too many different warnings.

    I also can see how if content ratings would get implemented it might hurt sales and it’s hard to find one standard for this. I think it would be difficult to know which content ratings I want to avoid or not as a person, so if I might ere on the side of caution I might miss out on books I would enjoy. On the other some advance warning would really be helpful in some cases as there are some books I would’ve know to avoid or know a scene I might find disturbing is coming. I do believe that a content rating or trigger warnings do cause you to read a book or watch a movie differently knowing what to expect. Although at the same time this also might cause me to be nervous the whole time as I am expecting a disturbing scene and thus enjoying the movie or book less. So basically I think there are some good and bad points about this.

    I do like how you handle it in your book reviews, that sounds like a good way to approach it. Even though it might be subjective it still gives readers a bit of an idea of what’s in the book. And as it’s less official than a content rating or trigger warning I also feel like the subjective nature is a bit more obvious.
    I can vaguely remember I once stumbled upon a site that did some sort of content rating for the books they did, authors could submit their books for review and they not only reviewed it, but also mentioned some sort of content rating according to their system. But yes I can’t really see this happening on a big scale. I am also not a fan of censorship and think teens are able to decide for themselves what they are up to reading or what not and which topics make them uncomfortable.

    I usually try and gauge whether a book includes themes or aspects I don’t like to read about, but sometimes it’s hard. I also included a note in my review policy about that and I am pleasantly surprised about how quite some authors mentioned if their book had dark scene or not and what to expect. It’s nice to have that information and it can be part of my decision to accept a review request or not. For books I pick myself I do sometimes stumble upon books where I gauged wrong or didn’t realize it was about a topic I don’t want to read about or has a scene that makes me feel uncomfortable. But if it’s only a small part I just skip it and mention it in my review and else I can always DNF the book.

    Great post! It’s really interesting topic to talk about as I can see so many things about this that could be beneficial, but at the same time I also believe it could never be implemented well as there are so many downsides as well.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Well, I think it’s probably that big box office movies go through so many channels and take so much to make that there are less of them, so all the big ones are able to be watched by one company or whatever that can rate them using a specific set of guidelines. Most indie movies are unrated, probably because there are too many of those and it might cost money to get them rated, who knows. So that’s probably the same problem there’d be with books, too many, and it might just be an extra expense.

      Yeah, that’s a good point about the torture thing. I have exactly what you said, I mark books for violence, but I don’t have any specific tag for torture. Part of the reason I don’t get specific like that is because then it gets even more subjective and confusing. Like, sometimes I’m not sure if something really qualifies as torture or not. You get me? But hell, I’d turn away if someone were putting a needle in someone’s eye because I can’t even watch someone in a movie get a fake needle in their arm to have blood drawn or a shot lol. I can’t watch needles in films, period. I even hate them in books. And yeah, what you said about how books could never list every single specific thing that might bother someone is so true because there’s just too much since everyone is bothered by different things.

      Lucky for me, I don’t tend to have a problem with much in books, which you already know, so I wouldn’t have to worry about figuring out what to avoid or not. But I’m sure ratings and warnings would help/hurt some people. I’ve never even thought about how they make you read differently because they change your expectations, but that’s a great point too!

      Huh, yeah, one random site really isn’t much of help in terms of a national or global scale. But it could still be useful for some people at least.

      That’s good that some authors mention it in their request. It’s funny though how we opposite we are about this one thing. Even in our review policies, you mention that you don’t like certain dark things, and I mention that I’m pretty much ok with everything, including dark content and themes lol. But that’s the great thing about books, you can always just stop or skip a scene or skim over it.

      Thanks! I agree, it definitely has benefits, but I don’t see a rating system ever actually being implemented.

      1. Lola

        I don’t really pay attention to content ratings in movies a lot, but that’s a good point that the indie movies probably won’t have them either as it probably costs money. Makes me wonder if indie movies ever get a big thing the content rating will disappear there or will just get rarer.

        I agree that if you get too specific it just gets confusing and how specific should you be in warnings then. And what one person sees as torture another one might not. And everyone is different in these things. It’s just too subjective to make one system for it. But I like that about books that it’s usually easy to skip or skim if things make me uncomfortable, as long as there aren’t too many of such incidents I can still enjoy the book.

        I also can’t stand needles in movies, for some reason they just freak me out. Actually in real life too. I hate it when I need to have my blood taken.

        I am really glad to see some authors mention it in their requests now, so I can take that information into account when receiving a review request.

        1. Kristen Burns

          If indie movies ever became a big thing, they’d probably just start having ratings lol.

          Exactly, warnings can only be so specific. If someone wants to actually talk more or describe in their review, that might make more sense.

          Yeah, I’m freaked out by needles in real life which is why I can’t watch them in movies and hate reading about them in books. It’s terrible, the book I’ve been planning has so many needles in it, and every time I would try to research things like blood transfusions, I could only read for like a minute at a time before getting too overwhelmed and freaked out and having to just stop reading about it.

  4. Amber Elise @ Du Livre

    I was literally just thinking about this! In YA it’s so hard because books can either be “Younger” or “older,” but that’s never marketed. I’m reading Nevernight right now which I assume is being marketed as YA but there are some crazy mature themes in there. Like you, I make note of it on my review…but what about the 14 year old who is just browsing shelves?

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, there’s definitely some YA that’s for older, more mature audiences, but I guess it’s never marketed because that’s so vague and subjective and how do you even qualify that, you know? When does it cross over into the older/mature territory? But then yeah, a young teen may not be ready for that and might just pick up not even realizing. I agree it could be super helpful, but it’s just such a tricky thing to figure out.

  5. Mara @ Mara Was Here

    I’m actually subscribed to a newsletter that provides content ratings for discounted books and stuff, and I’m really satisfied with how they do it. Though I do agree that it helps, it really is a bit hard to implement globally. I remember my mom not allowing me to read The Perks of Being a Wallflower just because there’s the word “sex” at the back (though I still did read it without her knowing – ha!). Interesting post, Kristen!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Huh, that’s interesting. I can see how the website would be helpful to some people, but yeah, it’s still not the same as something being implemented on a global scale. Lol to your Perks of Being a Wallflower story. That’s ok, I convinced my grandma to buy me a book that had the word “sex” in the title when I was like 15 lol because my mom definitely wouldn’t have let me have it, but it was by my favorite author at the time, and I had already read all her YA books. Teenagers will always find a way if they want something bad enough, haha. Thanks!

  6. Tiffany Roberts

    I think it would be a good idea. The Young Adult has such a broad range of content. I’ve read some that are every innocent and mild and then there are others that are heavy in the violence and sex (Kresley Cole’s Arcana Series that I love so much). My daughter is 9, but reads far above her age level and has begun to read young adult books, so it’d be nice to know what books might have what. Thankfully, some authors do this on Amazon if I purchase anything for her kindle.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I definitely think it would have its benefits. I mean, I can understand not wanting your 9-year-old to be reading books with graphic violence or sex in them. I think with how popular the internet, Goodreads, etc. has gotten though, it’s usually possible to find out what type of content books have. It might take some work to read through reviews and whatnot, so having ratings would be a lot of simpler, but it’s possible, at least sometimes. And I have seen what you’re talking about sometimes in which authors state whether their books are clean, have mature content, etc.

  7. Aralyn

    GREAT question. I’ve never thought about this before, but I easily came up with my opinion.
    And I don’t think they should give content ratings for the books. At least not ON the books.
    Our society does enough as it is to try censoring young people. Books are great opportunities to open their to some things without all the consequences it may have. In a cool story, maybe! Adding content ratings would definitely hinder readers and young readers and authors. Let’s be open!
    That said, I understand triggers.
    Maybe if they just out a label somewhere saying “be sure to look up content warnings” or something? Like make a section on Goodreads that you can click if you want to know. I don’t know. But I think add those ratings has more cons than pros.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thank you :-)

      I do agree that I think it would lead to more censorship. And I 100% absolutely agree that books are a great opportunity for kids and teens to experience things from a distance in order to learn about them, form opinions, think about them, etc. without actually having to go and do them. That’s one of the reasons I, for the most part, don’t think teens should be prohibited in what they read.

      Huh, actually, I think have a section for each book on GR would be a really great idea, a way that it would actually be possible to implement something like that. Maybe readers could even add their own input, or there could be checkboxes that authors or readers could check off if the book has certain types of content. It’d still be subjective, but that way if 100 people checked off “graphic violence” but only 10 checked off “mild violence” people could at least get a better idea.

  8. Paula Berinstein

    My feeling, Kristen, is that content ratings are one step closer to censorship. Definitely a bad idea. They would stifle creativity, hurt authors, and ultimately limit readers who are afraid to expose themselves to anything that might be “upsetting.” Life can be upsetting. We have to learn to deal with it. Which is not to say that we’re *required* to read things that upset us, but there might be value in doing so, and I would hate to see people avoid worthwhile books because of someone’s idea that there are scary bits in them.

    BTW, imagine the classics, not to mention the Bible, that would be affected: Oedipus Rex, War and Peace, Lolita, Lord of the Flies, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and I, Claudius, to name a few. Yikes!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I agree, I do feel like ratings would lead to more censorship. And I do get what you’re saying about people being afraid to expose themselves to anything that might be upsetting. On the one hand, I do agree. I think those “upsetting” things could help people learn or gain new perspectives and all that. Or the book might not even end up being all that upsetting, and the person would end up enjoying it if they gave it a chance. But on the other hand, everyone has different reasons why they read, and I think it’s fair for people to want to avoid certain things.

      Ok I haven’t read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and now I’m really curious to know what’s so bad in that book lol.

  9. Greg

    I think in some ways it would be good in that kids and parents would know if something’s appropriate or not. A 12 year old may not be ready for something a 17 year old is, but with YA and anything really you don’t know what kids are gonna see. But the cons and the obstacles to doing it would be hard to overcome. So I don’t see it happening. But I don’t think it would be censorship. Censorship to me is not publishing something or banning it from libraries or bookstores. A ratings system would just have info on what kind of book it is. Not banning it.

    I agree with Christy, you don’t know what you’ll get with YA. There’s a big debate going on on Twitter about this very thing…

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ah, but I don’t think age is really a deciding factor in what someone is ready for. So if a parent were going to restrict their kid from reading certain rated books until they were 17, that might not necessarily be a good thing. I mean, I’ve mentioned before that I was reading The Vampire Chronicles at 14. But if those books had ratings, they’d probably be rated mature or whatever (I mean, I think the movie is rated R even, and the first book wasn’t even the most sexual or violent one), and then my parents wouldn’t have let me read them, and then whoops, there goes the books I loved the most and spent the most time reading throughout high school and most likely formed my love of the paranormal genre lol. So having ratings wouldn’t be the government censoring books, but I think it would lead to censorship by parents or maybe bookstores.

      But the YA thing is a little more understandable since it does span such a wide age range, and kids and teens should be able to find something they’re comfortable with and ready for. And I feel like people aren’t expecting tons of sex and violence when they pick up a YA book.

      1. Greg

        See I kind of agree that age isn’t necessarily maturity, but there is SOME correlation seems to me. It’s like the Nevernight debate going on right now- I’ve seen bloggers saying it’s graphic and shouldn’t be considered YA but it’s being marketed that way. So a 12 yr old who’s a good reader or a 14 yr old goes and buys it- the parents are unaware- and maybe it makes them uncomfortable or they’re not ready for it. If it were my kid I’d have a problem with that. I do see your point though, from your personal example your whole reading experience would have been different, so I can see why you would have a problem with that. And maybe ratings aren’t the way to go- we’ve never had them, and we’ve all survived. :)

        It is a tough topic.

        1. Kristen Burns

          Ok, yes, there is some correlation since 17-year-olds are generally more mature and ready to read about mature things than 9-year-olds. So I do think ratings would be helpful in that way and could help kids and teens avoid things they’re not ready for. It’s just that, I think parents have a tendency to want to overprotect their children’s minds. So a parent might not allow their kid to read a book that has sex or language in it until they’re 18, but meanwhile their child was mature enough at 15, or is already *having* sex when maybe reading about it would’ve helped them to learn about it without doing it. Kids gotta grow up and learn about mature topics (not just sex) at some point. It is a tough topic because I think it could be super useful for many reasons, but I think it’d end up being kind of abused/overused, for lack of a better word.

          1. Greg

            I’ve been reading some of the other comments and I think what I’m for is more the content warnings- not ratings. Maybe they would be voluntary- kudos to the publishers who do it. again for me the issue is younger kids, not teens who are buying their own books.

            I know as a teen I bought my own books, my parents didn’t know what I was reading. I think most older teens are? For the teens though… Content warnings might help. I’ve seen bloggers, for example,. say they were fine with sex in their early reading and others say they didn’t want to read about that as an early teen.

            So it might be more for the readers than parents looking over their shoulders? I’m sure there are some parents that scrutinize what their kids are reading, but for most older teens I’d bet they’re not looking THAT close. Fascinating discussion. I love seeing all the viewpoints. :)

            1. Kristen Burns

              I do completely agree that content warnings are helpful to people who want to avoid certain things, teens and adults. That’s why I include them on my blog in my review posts. However, just judging from my experiences, I still think that if it became a really common thing or a required thing and was right there on the book, there would be parents taking it too far and using it to censor their kids even more. Maybe just having content warnings on GR or something would be a happy medium though. That way readers could look up books they’re interested in, but it probably wouldn’t lead to parents doing anything differently than they do now because either parents are strict enough about it that they’re already researching books before letting their kids read them or they’re just judging from the blurbs on the backs of books or whatever and wouldn’t even know to check GR.

              This has been a surprisingly successful discussion though, considering I thought this would be a dud and get hardly any comments. I swear, I’m always wrong about which discussions I think will and won’t do well lol. It has been interesting seeing the different viewpoints!

  10. Laura

    Interesting topic! In theory putting content ratings on books is probably a good idea, but as you have said, I don’t know how you would standardize these ratings. Plus I think people of the same age can have very different maturity levels, and so a book that wouldn’t be suitable for one person of a certain age may be something another would be fine with reading.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, it seems nearly impossible to actually standardize, and age definitely isn’t the same as maturity. So if they labeled it by age or actually limited what people were allowed to read under a certain age, that would be a problem.

  11. Eva @ All Books Considered

    Great discussion and honestly not something I’d ever thought about! Maybe because I don’t have kids, I don’t think content ratings would be a good thing. I don’t know, content is so subjective and it to me just pushes our media more toward censorship and banning, which I abhor. I’m sure there are good reasons, and you’ve listed several, as to why content ratings should exist for books but I prefer to not have them.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Thanks! Yeah, I do sometimes wonder if I’d feel the same way I do if I had kids lol. But I agree that I think it would lead to more censorship, at least by parents if nothing else. Ratings would definitely have both pros and cons.

  12. Vivian Perry

    The Catholic Church used to have of authors that were prohibited or censored. I really don’t know how it worked. But if writer had one book condemned all of his books were, I think. But I don’t think it’s a good idea, it’s a shame to buy a book and then find you don’t like the content. I buy a lot of second hand books and so don’t spend a lot of money!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I definitely don’t believe in prohibiting or banning books. But it is a shame to buy a book and then find out you don’t like the content, so warnings of some sort would be helpful for that. Buying book secondhand is great though! I used to buy a lot of used books when I had a store nearby. Now I mostly stick to ebooks and borrowing so I don’t spend too much either :-)

  13. S. J. Pajonas

    Now I declare straight up front about sex, profanity, or drug use in my blurbs because I’m tired of the reviews that whine about such things (and yes, there are plenty of reviewers who do go on and on and on about these things in books.) So anyway, I’m fine with content warnings or ratings. I’m not entirely sure they help but it’s worth putting the information out there.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I can see how it’d be frustrating to have reviewers complain about that. Declaring that in the blurb has always seemed like a good idea to me though, helps people find what they want and gets books into the right hands. It seems less drastic than a content rating and does seem helpful.

  14. AngelErin

    No, just no. I don’t think that content ratings would be a good idea at all. I can see where there may some benefits to it, but I’m definitely against it. I feel like these days too many parents are overprotective enough as it is. Then kids grow up and never learn how to function in the real world or know what to do when they get into situations. Well that’s a another whole long thing I won’t get into, but my point is I worry that content ratings would get out of control and parents would start to restrict what their kids read. Like, “Oh these have ratings now like movies so maybe I need to limit what they can read.” Which I’m fully against. That being said, graphic novels have ratings a lot of the time (or all? Not sure) and I’m okay with that. Because those have pictures and some graphic novels look childlike and are WAY MATURE. Anyway, I would have to say no to content ratings on books. I wouldn’t be surprised if that ended up happening one day, but it would cause a lot of issues I think. Even on just how to rate everything like you said. Who knows. I’m rambling so I’ll be done now. ??

    1. AngelErin

      One more thing, sorry! I do think trigger warnings would be useful. Not to limit what kids read, but for anyone who can’t handle certain things like rape and whatnot.

      1. Kristen Burns

        Exactly, I feel the same way about trigger warnings. That’s the whole point of them, to help people avoid reading about something that might trigger some sort of negative or unhealthy reaction, especially if something they’ve ever been through or are trying to avoid.

    2. Kristen Burns

      I agree that I think it would probably cause more censorship by overprotective parents. And that’s a great point you made about how will kids learn if they never read about or learn about or experience anything? I can understand graphic novels too though since it’s just different when there’s an actual image in front of you. In your head, you can skip over thing or imagine them less extreme or in whatever way you’re comfortable with. You can’t do that when there’s an image, and some graphic novels so have some seriously sexual and/or violent images.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Personally I wouldn’t have a use for ratings either since almost nothing is off limits to me. But I do think content warnings can be helpful. I only include them on my blog though because I still haven’t figured out a good way to include them on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews, and it’s just more work.

  15. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books

    When I was a teenager or a middle grader, I would have HATED the idea of content ratings. But as an adult, I would love to flip open the cover and have a bulleted list of things like Lots of romance, Frenemies, Threesomes, etc. Not to say I don’t like those things, I’d just like the heads up what is going to be involved good or bad. I also am reading my son a book that is about 6 graders and there are a TON of swear words in it… I’m a little taken aback, but what am I supposed to do we’re already involved in the story.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I would’ve hated it when I was younger too. I was restricted enough as it was. The only reason I got to read Anne Rice, for example, was because my parents didn’t even realize what was in them. But those were some of my favorite books that contributed to forming me as a reader, and I was definitely mature enough to read them. But nowadays I feel like we can at least find those kinds of things you mentioned by reading reviews. It takes some effort, but that’s why I almost always read a bunch of reviews before deciding to read a book—I know what I like and dislike, and I want to find books that fit me. Yikes about the book you’re reading though. That just sounds kind of awkward if you have to say a bunch of swear words out loud while reading to your son lol. In a case like that, it sure would’ve been helpful to know ahead of time!

      1. Michelle @ Pink Polka Dot Books

        It is super awkward, but I’ve gotten really good at changing the Damn it’s to Dang it. And the shit to shoot or whatever first comes to mind. But still I shouldn’t have to do that for a book about 6 graders. My son is only in 3rd grade, but we like reading MG books about 4-6 graders and it’s never been a problem before.

        1. Kristen Burns

          Haha that’s what I was thinking I’d do in your scenario, change the curse words to more appropriate words. And I agree, when I think MG books, I think clean and appropriate, not full of cursing.

  16. Tessa

    Content ratings are a double-edged sword for everything, not just books. There is a fine line between protection and censorship. I personally feel like everyone has the right to read whatever they want, whether or not it as bad language or triggers. While content ratings would be good for people to avoid subjects that bother them, they would also be used as a tool to stop readers from reading. Some parents and teachers already have problems with censoring “banned books,” so giving content ratings is basically allowing them to label more “banned books.” I would love to have content ratings for those who would properly use them, but more people would use them to limit readers than to help them.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yes, this is exactly how I feel! You summarized it perfectly. They would be a great idea for people who would use them properly, but many people would abuse them, for lack of a better word, and use them to censor kids and teens even more.

  17. Maja (The Nocturnal Library)

    I never thought we should have content ratings, but now that I have a MG reader, I’m slowly changing my mind. They would make my job a lot easier. Just recently I picked up Princess Diaries for my sick 9-y-o because she really enjoyed the movie and it was completely appropriate for her. She even started reading it, only for me to realize that it has really objectionable content. I had to take it away from her mid chapter 3, which was a horrible experience I never want to repeat and entirely my fault.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, that’s gotta be tough figuring out what books to let your 9-year-old read. I haven’t read the Princess Diaries books though, so I don’t know what kind of content they have, but it does sound like a content rating or warning would’ve been helpful for you!

  18. Kei @ The Lovely Pages Reviews

    I’ve never thought about content ratings to be honest, I see it for movies but for books I just don’t care. I like the element of surprise too much to have things mentioned in such a way and there’s very little that will bother me, so long as it is realistic even within fiction limits I’m cool with it. But for kids I think it goes both ways, who is to say something is not suitable for kids (apart from the obvious stuff, I remember you mentioning FSOG once) and who is to say that a child must read something, It’s a totally subjective but I do mention in my reviews if something is over the top or might be a trigger for some readers.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Honestly, content ratings for books wouldn’t affect me personally since I also read pretty much anything and everything. I mean, I actually *like* dark, disturbing books. But it’s obviously iffy-er with kids. It is a tough thing because it’s such a gray area, how do you know when a kid is ready for something since every kid is different? I did have a post about FSoG once that talked about the subjectivity of age and all that. But yeah, I still think it can be helpful to some people which is why I mention triggers and things too.

  19. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    I always include “My Content Rating” along with my review, which tells whether or not the books contains sex and more mature themes – In YA books I usually even say something more specific like, “Characters have sex, but it’s not really shown” or “Characters have sex and it’s described” because, as a mom of a just-turned-14-year-old, that distinction matters to me. Sometimes it can be hard to define those types of things, even by my own standards though!
    We’re in that awkward phase where my son is old enough to read some more mature subjects, but I don’t really feel like he’s ready for a lot of the YA I read. I do wish there was an easier way for me to tell what kind of content was in books like there is for movies, but I could definitely see the issues that trying to come up with an “official” system would cause (including censorship). So, it probably makes more sense to leave it up to individual reviewers for that sort of info – when you read a review, you know it’s subjective, and you can take that into account – still, as far as I’m concerned, more info is better than none).
    I read a Twitter thread recently where an author was talking about how keeping our kids from reading books with mature themes is so wrong and she said that people should allow their children to read anything they want if it’s not above their reading level. I kind of had to raise my eyebrows at that – my kids have read way above their grade levels for quite some time, but that doesn’t mean they’re emotionally ready for adult books. I kind of have to chuckle at the fact that most of the time people I’ve seen making broad statements like that are young and probably don’t have teenagers of their own. It’s amazing how much perspective changes when you’re looking at your own kids and working out how you feel about it!

    1. Kristen Burns

      After this whole discussion, I’m actually considering changing my sex/violence/trigger warning stuff from checkboxes to a little section so that I can be more specific, like the example you gave.

      But that’s true, with individual reviews, you can take the subjectivity into account. And by looking at numerous reviews, you might be able to get a better idea, like if they all say the same thing or if it’s someone you trust more.

      I get it, I would probably feel a lot more protective if I had kids lol. But at the same time, I do think some parents take it too far. I think back to my teen years, and I know that I was ready for mature content. My parents would never have let me read The Vampire Chronicles, for example, if they knew some of the content in them, but it was never an issue for me, and those were kind of my favorite books back then and contributed to shaping me as a a reader and probably in some ways as as person, you know? So I guess my opinion is biased in that way from my own experiences. But that was me personally and might not apply to everyone, so broad statements like you mentioned just don’t work. And obviously you don’t want 10-year-olds reading about graphic sex, for example. So it’s just such a difficult thing to figure out.

  20. Aubrey @ Aubrey's Book Nook

    I appreciate them because I like to be able to censor myself from certain explicit language and other profane content just because I don’t want that in my head, but I completely understand both sides. Great post!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I do think warnings like that on GR or wherever are generally more helpful than harmful since they help readers avoid things they don’t want, like you said, and thus help books get into the right hands :-) Thanks!

  21. Jessica

    I also comment in my posts on movies and books about if they have any violence or cussing in them. But I don’t agree with having content ratings. When I was younger, I would read Sweet Valley High books. I don’t have kids, but I think kids would want to read the books anyway regardless of the content rating.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I’m not familiar with the Sweet Valley High books, so I don’t know what kind of content is in them? But I agree, I think it’s one thing to give warnings in reviews and even in blurbs online, but actual content ratings is probably taking things too far.

  22. Katie @ Doing Dewey

    I’m glad we don’t have content rating. I think you make a great point that people can probably find the information they want from reviews if that is important to them and I do think there are fantastic books I might not have read if I’d known about some of the content in advance. I also think your point about these ratings being subjective is really important. For deciding what a child reads, for instance, I think only a parent knows their child well enough to know what they can handle. Better they read a book and decide on an individual basis if its a good fit instead of relying on an arbitrary rating system.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Exactly, I can usually find what I’m looking for if there is something specific I want to know. But I guess parents might consider it helpful since they might not want to or have time to read every single book their kid wants to read. But yeah, the ratings would be so arbitrary anyway since every person is different.