Is The Hunger Games a book for all ages?

It’s times like this that I think my parents had it so much easier. There was no Internet, no cellphones or texting when I was a child, and the most controversial book of the day was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—which covers such scandalous ground as a girl getting her first bra and having her period for the first time—pretty innocent compared to what’s available to young people today, right?  I was prepared for the dangers of the Internet and texting, bracing myself for all the trappings of social media; do I have to worry about books now too?

The movie The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins will open this upcoming weekend.  Let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of the book. Though it’s considered young adult in genre, its appeal goes far beyond that, much like that of Harry Potter and the Twilight series. As you may have heard, there has been great controversy surrounding the franchise as the books are centered on children killing each other to stay alive in a sadistic adult game. While the premise sounds like something no young person should read, the Hunger Games is ultimately a story of youth, finding yourself, staying true to who you are, being brave, resourceful, even compassionate and using smarts to win an unthinkable game. The book’s heroine Katniss Everdeen is arguably an excellent role model in many ways. The question many parents may be asking is: how old should our children be before we let them read books with such a dark subject matter?

A girlfriend recently called me and asked for my opinion on this very thing. She was concerned because a local elementary school teacher had recommended the books for one of the class’ book clubs. While my friend’s children were not in the class in question, they easily could have been. She was concerned after having heard what the books were about and knew I’d read them so was calling to get my take.

Her inquiry forced me to think about when I would let my own children read it. I shared my recollections of the novel with her and encouraged her to read the book so she could make the most informed decision when her kids showed interest in them.  I was struck by the fact that when I think back on my own childhood, I can’t recall wanting to read any books outside of what was required by my teachers.  Times have changed and the young adult book market is hot so many of us with young children should probably start catching up on our reading before our kids start asking us about Panem.

My personal preference is to read or watch things before I let my kids do so. This is great in theory but with parents’ busy lives, it’s difficult to vet everything our children want to read or see. I think books like The Hunger Games give us a great opportunity as parents to talk to one another and share our thoughts. It also allows you and your spouse or partner to discuss and prepare for how you’ll handle controversial material your child shows an interest in. Plus it might get you to read some great books you might have otherwise ignored (though ignoring this juggernaut seems pretty impossible just now). I secretly love that I now have an excuse to read a tween/young adult book without being judged.

I’m grateful that so many parents are cognizant about what they’re exposing their children to, and grateful for people willing to share their perspectives including other blogs that are tackling this same topic. It gives parents a variety of inputs and helps us make better decisions.

Being a parent to young children today isn’t any easier or harder than it was in the past, it’s just different. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games and look forward to the day my children can read the books—many years from now.

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