Today’s parents face a tough battle. Neighborhoods are a lot more complicated than they were in the 1960s: every culture, every religion, every idea, every different standard, lives right next door. Information is received at lightning speed via the Internet, and children can be caught up in this whirlwind, subjected to things that they are still too young to understand or are emotionally unfit to handle.

Censorship seems to be an answer to the growing problem of how to care for and watch over our children. But books are meant for exploration, for questioning. Within a book’s pages, children are safe to explore their feelings and reflect on their own situations. Putting the right book into the hands of the right child has great value and changes lives. It can be empowering, motivating, and inspiring.

Here in the United States, an ostensibly free country, one where people are encouraged and given the legal right to speak their minds, we have been balancing personal freedoms and rights. But our media challenge this balance every day. As consumers, we respect artists and allow them the freedom of expression. At the same time, we are aware that children are seeing some unsuitable situations—but we are not always in agreement about what we want our children to watch, hear, or read.

One political solution is rating systems, intended to help parents pick appropriate material for their children based on content, theme, violence, language, nudity, sensuality, drug abuse, and other elements. However, the rating systems have not stopped today’s lyrics from becoming more explicit, our cable television system from containing more swearing and sexual content, and our movies from becoming bloodier and more violent. And despite all the warnings and all the ratings, children are still listening to these songs, watching these television shows, and renting these movies. The rating system may have convinced politicians, parents, and librarians that it could do the job of protecting their young. It may have given people a false sense of security. But in reality, it means nothing when no one is there to monitor children’s actions and discuss appropriate behavior.

Parents have a vested interest in their children. Creating a home in which a child feels safe is their responsibility. Creating a home where a child can safely make mistakes is their responsibility. Home is the first place where a child learns right from wrong, good from bad, healthy from unhealthy. It is the parents’ job to give their child a good defense by helping them establish boundaries.

School helps to reinforce these lessons. Teachers help children by challenging them, instructing them, and helping them move on to the next level of maturity and understanding. A teacher may know, before a parent, when a child is ready for the next level or is mature enough to handle a theme or topic. When there is communication and respect between parent and teacher, the child’s development is the winner.

America is a free society and has plenty of forums where people can express their views: newspapers, radio, billboards, and the Internet. People can discuss their differences and learn from each other. Why shouldn’t we allow our children that same rich experience? Banning a book is about as helpful as using a match in a hurricane. It does not shed light on anything and gets blown around by a lot of wind. Nor does sticking a label on a problem make it go away. Only in discussing, in sharing comments and concerns, is there growth and understanding. Let us show our children that knowledge is the most empowering censor they can use.

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