Should Books Have Content Ratings? – Let’s Talk Bookish

Hey friends, welcome back! Today, I’m doing last Friday’s Let’s Talk Bookish discussion. As always, Let’s Talk Bookish is a weekly meme, hosted by me and Dani @ Literary Lion, where we discuss certain topics, share our opinions, and spread the love by visiting each other’s posts.

This Friday’s topic was: Should Books Have Content Ratings? (Dani)

This is Dani’s topic for the month, and it’s an interesting question that I haven’t really thought of before. I feel like books kind of do already have content ratings, but it just isn’t on the level of the ratings for movies/tv shows.

Without further ado, let’s get started!

I feel like books do already have some content ratings, by way of age groups. Books are already classified as Middle Grade, Young Adult, Adult, etc and that kind of serves as a content rating that gives you an idea of the themes that might be included or discussed in the book.

But what is a content rating exactly? According to Wikipedia:

A content rating usually places a media source into one of a number of different categories, to show which age group is suitable to view media and entertainment.

Wikipedia

So technically, we kind of already do that in the book industry. However, it’s not the exact same as content ratings for movies/tv shows are.

One book classified as Adult could be very explicit while another book classified as Adult could be rather clean. You really won’t know unless you do your research about the book. It being classified as Adult just tells you that the characters are Adults and that it’s intended audience isn’t kids/teenagers. Does it mean that it’s inappropriate for kids or teenagers to read? Maybe for kids, but I think some teenagers would be perfectly fine reading it depending on what it’s about.

In contrasts, with movies/tv shows, if it’s rated PG-13 or R (in the US), then you know that it’s not clean and/or it’s really violent. Basically, it’s most definitely not suitable for kids, and if it’s R, then not for teenagers either without adult supervision.

Should books have ratings like movies do? In my opinion, I don’t think it would hurt if they do.

I don’t really see a negative of having similar content ratings for books; it can save parents, and even kids, a lot of time because the rating gives them an idea of how appropriate the book is for their child/for themselves. And some people might not even care about the ratings, so it’s a win for those who do want to know, and it doesn’t hurt those who don’t care.

Or maybe it could hurt them. I guess it could possibly stigmatize a book and make readers self-conscious of who knows what they’re reading because the rating makes it seem like a very inappropriate book. I mean, for example, what would The Poppy Way be rated as if it had a content rating? PG-13 would be much too mild for some things that happen in it, so R? It would be really awkward to recommend an “R-rated” book when according to the rating, it’s too “old/inappropriate” for even myself.

There’s already a slight stigma that comes with reading a book outside of your age range, and content ratings might just make it worse. However, I can’t deny that it also has its positives and would help a lot of parents who want to watch what their kids are reading.

I’m not really well versed in movies, I don’t think I’ve even watched a movie rated PG-13 before, so I’m not sure if I can really compare the two. But based on how I understand it, say a 13 year old wanted to watch an R-rated movie, and their parents couldn’t care less. Maybe if they went to a movie theatre, then they could be refused admission without a parent/guardian because of the rating. But if they watched it at home using an online streaming service, I don’t see how they could be stopped from doing so. Sure, it might ask if they’re over 18, but if that kid really wants to watch it, they’d just say yes and voila, they get to watch it.

I don’t actually know if that’s how it works, but I’m just hoping that it’s something like that.

Similarly, if a 13 year old wanted to read an adult book, there’s literally nothing to stop them from doing so. Nothing. Except their parents, and if their parents don’t care, then yeah, they can read whatever they want.

Now, I don’t know how normal it is for kids to watch movies that they “aren’t supposed to” but if it is as often as I’m guessing (kids are kids. they totally would) then content ratings don’t really stop them. Likewise, even if there were content ratings for books, I don’t think it would stop them either. So it really would only matter for parents or people who want it and the rest of the world just wouldn’t care.

Besides the potential stigma that might come with content ratings, I don’t think there’s any other negative of including them. If a kid so badly wants to read an Adult book, they will, ratings or no, so nobody else really loses anything. And people can get over stigmas eventually, so I don’t think there’s much harm in including content ratings.


Is it the responsibility of parents or should there be a standard book rating system to deem what’s appropriate?

This is one of the questions that Dani asked that I wanted to address.

I think it’s the responsibility of parents to deem what’s appropriate for the kids, and a rating system could help them with that. However, I don’t think there should be an authority that deems what’s appropriate. Most likely, that authority is going to use a system that will be based on ages to deem what’s appropriate, and as a kid who’s suffered plenty because of age restrictions that don’t take into account the fact that I’m not like most kids my age (not that I blame them too much), that system would easily become my number one enemy.

I would positively hate it and it would take the joy out of reading for me, because I won’t be able to read my kind of books. Imagine having to be stuck reading Young Adult all the time until you turn 18.

That. would. be. torture. I would be physically in pain if I have to deal with all that teenage angst and drama all the time.

So no. I don’t there should be a rating system that deems what’s appropriate, but there can be a system that tells you what to expect in a book, and parents can use that to decide for their kids. The difference between the two is that one tries to say what’s appropriate for certain people without knowing them, while the other just states what to expect from the book without trying to restrict certain readers.

And those are my two cents for the day.

Be sure to visit Dani’s LTB post to join the linkup!

Some questions for you:

  • Do you think books should have content ratings? Why do you think they don’t already do?
  • Is it the responsibility of parents to determine what’s appropriate, or should there be a system that does that?
  • Do you think content ratings would create a stigma that hurts some readers?
  • Confession time: have you ever watched a movie that was technically too old for you?

Chat with me in the comments below!

23 thoughts on “Should Books Have Content Ratings? – Let’s Talk Bookish

  1. I really enjoyed reading everyone’s thoughts on this topic. I started firmly in the “yes we need a rating system” camp because AS a parent unless you have the time to read every book before allowing your children too (unlikely) you are relying on reviews – and we all know how hit and miss they can be.
    However I’m more inclined to take the route of “content warnings”, as it’s not always age that makes the difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a really interesting topic that I’ve pondered before but not quite from this perspective.

    In my country, there is no content rating system in place. In cinemas, there may be an “age limit” (for horror movies or sexual content) but it’s rarely enforced, and on national television whenever it’s recommended for older audiences, a little red dot appears on the upper corner of the screen and that’s it. In regards to books, there are children & middle-grade books in one separate section, and the rest is only organized by genre basically. Which is to say, that is a bit of a confusing concept for me sometimes.

    I agree that identifying a book as middle grade or young adult it’s sort of given a content rating but rather than ratings, content warnings in the back or beginning of the book would be more helpful. YA books can also be pretty emotionally gruesome and triggering. I think the age-based classification might be one of the biggest problems here especially due to popular reader sites where it’s not abundantly clear or is defined by readers (like on Goodreads). So, adult books often end up labeled as YA based on someone’s opinion. The classification should be determined by publishers and website managers, in GR’s case, and placed in appropriate places in bookstores.

    Personally, I don’t think parents should try to control what teens read (for younger kids, sure). I read a lot of adult fantasy when I was in high school and I really enjoyed it. YA was mostly boring and I hadn’t discovered middle grade yet so I’d say my reading experience would’ve been very affected if I was limited by my age range but I was never banned from reading/watching certain things or negatively discouraged to do so by any teacher either so perhaps that kind of freedom is affecting my perspective on this subject somewhat.

    (I could go on and probably write a whole essay on this subject tbh but I’ll leave at that before it becomes more confusing and all over the place.)

    Like

  3. Oof, I forgot to write on this topic – and I was looking forward to it, too. I’ll just post late I guess. 😬
    Anyway, I do think it’s important to have content warnings. Not just because of parental supervision, but also because often, some may just feel they’re not ready for a specific book yet. I don’t think it should only be up to parents what is and what is not approvable with regard to content ratings – after all, many parents would say a book featuring, say, gay parents or so would likely get a PG-18. I think both parents and their children should work together to decide what’s appropriate. You make a great point about the system making desicions “without knowing” the actual individuals in the audience, and I think that should be taken into account more than it is.
    With content ratings, it could lead to potential stigmas, depending on what it is. I do think they’re helpful, because there are just some things I’d rather not read, but typically, I can just skip a sentence (or more) if there is something triggering or otherwise just too unpleasent for me. BUT, there is always the fear that someone would look at the rating and be like “eek no nevermind” (I remember looking at a trigger warning list for The Poppy War, and I think saying I was shocked is an understatement). I think the issue probably is not so much a book’s content in itself that is the cause of stigma, though, but that books are generally judged more harshly than movies and TV.

    And my confession: The Addams Family and Addams Family Values. No regrets there.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha, I was late with my post too, so just go for it!
      Yeah, in an ideal situation, the parent and child work together to know what’s right and not for them, and to discuss any issues or things new to the kid. But, I don’t know if that actually does happen. I know for sure that there are the parents that dictate and the kid has to live with it, and the parents who don’t care and the kid reads whatever they want. Personally, I don’t think I’ve really come across a “work together” approach but it is the ideal.
      I mean, it happens with movies and tv shows already where a person sees the rating and decides to pass on it, so it shouldn’t be that big of a deal with books. Though it’s books, and like you said, it probably would still be heavily judged. 😂 that is an incredibly appropriate reaction to TPW. I didn’t actually know the full list of triggers when I went into the book, I just knew that it was heavy and dark and gritty so it was interesting to see just how much was included in the series.

      Lol, I haven’t watched it, but all’s well that ends well! Thank you so much for reading, Ele ✨

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I definitely agree with the idea that kids will read books that are deemed “adult” no matter what. It might even make those books more appealing to kids, because a lot of kids want to be grown up and read what the adults read. I mean, I know I did as a kid. Some of those books were rated “e” by the library, but all I had to do to get them was go to the self-checkout. It would be interesting to see how these ratings would be enforced. This is a take on age ratings for books I haven’t seen yet, and I enjoyed reading your thoughts. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know right, the forbidden is always more enticing. Lol, I used to use my online library instead, and that saved me from any disapproving glares or outright refusal. There is always a workaround when it comes to “forbidden” things. Thank you so much ✨

      Like

  5. I agree with the points you have made, but I think that a trigger warnings page in the hook itself would be beneficial. Sometimes I can’t find the trigger warnings for books and therefore either avoid them or dive right in. There have been books I’ve read that I wish had some form of warning before I read them.
    I also think that the maturity level of the reader has a big part in what they choose or are allowed to read. My sister is in 2nd grade but reading 3rd grade books because of her maturity.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think trigger warnings are different from content ratings, they’re related, but not the same. I’m all for trigger warnings being available with the book as it can help so many people avoid books that could possibly trigger them, but content ratings are a little different.
      Yeah, maturity definitely plays a role in deciding what’s appropriate or not. Thank you for reading ❤

      Like

  6. A really thoughtful discussion! I agree with the points you have given and personally feel that the maturity of a person also comes into play when reading or watching something beyond their age group, adults might also find R rated work unsuitable for themselves and a child with mature understanding might enjoy reflecting on issues that would generally be considered too heavy for them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, yes, yes!! Maturity needs to play a factor, but I guess since it’s not something as easily quantifiable as age, for instance, that’s why it’s not used to measure. But it really should be taken into account as well.

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  7. I think it’s more about difficult subjects, so those who are triggered by certain topics can make a pre-informed judgement. But definitely an interesting take on age ratings. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

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