Monday, May 21, 2012

Should YA books have a ratings system?

ETA (05/22/12): If anyone's interested, both Gayle Forman and Kiersten White have written fantastic posts about this same GalleyCat article. I encourage you to check them out!

Earlier today I read an interesting article from GalleyCat about YA books and how BYU professor Sarah Coyne thinks ratings might help parents decide what's appropriate for their kids to read. The article is pretty vague on what kind of rating system would be appropriate, but it seems to imply something similar to the MPAA ratings.

Now, this rating system would be awesome for two reasons: 1) it would allow readers to easily avoid certain content, and 2) wary parents would be able to purchase new books for their kids on short notice. Unfortunately, this ease-of-access comes with a pretty large downside. 

A ratings system based directly on "inappropriate" content encourages censorship. Many YA authors want to tell stories about dark and gritty things, but writing books is also a business. If high ratings on dark books mean that they won't sell, then we will see self-imposed censorship. And if we know anything about teen books, we know that there needs to be variety. Some kids need the reassurance that the world is not all puppies and rainbows. 

And despite all this clamor, there are resources that concerned parents can access right now. That's what book blogs and teen lit librarians are for. People critique for content all the time, and with the advent of smart phones, it's not difficult to get this information on short notice.

Of course, almost all media operates under a rating system nowadays, so I don't find it too surprising that I keep hearing about this potential rating system for YA books and I can see the value in it. However, if YA books had to be rated, I would personally prefer something similar to the current rating system for manga. Unlike other rating systems, this one focuses on targeted age groups along with specific content. This would help parents keep their younger teens from reading material written for a slightly older audience, which I think is the biggest issue at hand.

The thing about YA books is that the audience is really broad. There's a huge difference in maturity level between 13-year-olds and 17-year-olds, and it's really easy for adults to forget that. Because of this maturity difference, younger teens and older teens inherently want to read about vastly different things. And because everything is shelved together, it's super easy for a younger teen to pick up something that would be more appropriate for an older teen to read.

So theoretically, an age-based rating system would help protect younger teens without imposing censorship in the same fashion as a content-based system. Happy medium? Maybe? What do you guys think? If it makes parents more comfortable, should YA books have a rating system? Do you think it makes a difference on what kind of rating system is used? Or have I missed something important and would every rating system would lead to censorship? Tell me what you think in the comments.