Attending the London Book Fair yesterday (April 16), a seminar entitled “Does Teen Fiction Require a Ratings System?” caught my attention. The discussion featured author C J Daugherty and children’s book reviewer Dinah Hall. I wasn’t able to listen to the seminar in its entirety, but it was a fascinating topic with some very interesting discourse.

Society today largely revolves around children, and perhaps too much. In the entertainment world, children are restricted from certain themes or content, but whereas films have age restrictions and music has parental guidance stickers, books lack any external content information system. Yet are we protecting them too much anyway? An audience member commented that the idea of keeping children in a protected bubble is an adult construct with no grounds in reality – in other words, children are already exposed to ‘adult’ content far more than is often admitted. C J validated this with tales of her own experience – when researching her books, she spent a lot of time listening to teenagers in public, and said it was “an education”. They are discussing themes and using language that many parents would like to think they are ignorant of. She also made the point that ratings are really for the parents rather than the child; they exist so the parent can be aware of what the child is consuming, but kids will read, watch and listen to things regardless – if their friends are doing it, they’ll do it too, with or without an age restriction.

C J Daugherty and Dinah Hall discussing a ratings system for teen fiction

Censorship is always a divisive topic, and C J mentioned that with or without a ratings system, there exists a self-editing mentality anyway, as even if she wanted to include certain words or themes she knows her “editor won’t want to edit it, the publisher won’t want to publish it, and Tesco won’t stock it”. While there may be a strong argument for not exposing young people to certain themes, is the focus on children stifling creativity?