Dear Miriam | Inquisitive Sixth Grader Wants to Read a Grown-up Novel

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Dear Miriam,

My sixth grader has taken an interest in the novel I’m reading and would like to read it, too. The content is most definitely inappropriate, but short of locking up the book or carrying it with me at all times, I can’t exactly stop him from picking it up. What’s the best way to handle this?


Right to Read

Dear Right,

Inappropriate content is everywhere: YouTubers whose cursing accidentally gets past restricted mode, billboards telling people they’re going to hell, podcast ads about health conditions you’d rather not explain …

You can’t protect your son from hearing or seeing these things any more than you can prevent him from hearing a hurtful comment at school or getting a skinned knee from skateboarding. These experiences are uncomfortable, difficult to avoid and, sooner or later, part of how we understand and navigate the world.

Your son is expressing interest in a book that he’s seen you read. Maybe it looks interesting to him, maybe he’s trying to push boundaries or buttons or maybe he’s trying to be more grown up or more like you. Whatever the reason, you’re likely to waste a lot of energy trying to prevent him from seeing what’s inside.

In reality, the probability is that he’ll lose interest as soon as the book isn’t off limits. It likely won’t hold his attention for long and, if it does, maybe you’ll be able to appreciate his time spent reading and his commitment to finding out what you consider off-limits.

Be available to answer questions about the book, but don’t offer your interpretations or editorializing unless it’s requested. Don’t be surprised if some of the more inappropriate aspects may just be over his head and not register, or may land very differently for an 11- or 12-year-old than they would for an adult. Be willing to listen about what he likes or doesn’t like, and be ready to help offer more age-appropriate book recommendations based on what you hear.

I want to specify that this advice applies to reading materials and not, for example, to sexually explicit movies or violent video games. The slow pace of a book allows for a different kind of processing than fast-moving digital content, and they should be treated differently.

Even so, my opening premise stands, which is that you can’t control everything your child is exposed to. You can, however, be sure that you provide access to lots of quality content of all kinds and, most importantly, a supportive environment to discuss whatever is on his mind.

And if you really, really don’t want him reading this book, read it on your phone protected behind a password, or find a way to read it when he’s just not around to take an interest.

Be well,



  1. When I was about 12 years old I watched a science fiction movie from the 40’s or 50’s called “Valley of the —-“(I forget the exact title). It was about a mad scientist who shrunk people and kept them in glass jars. A few weeks later my mom and I were in a bookstore and I picked up a paperback copy of “Valley of the Dolls”, thinking it may be science fiction and similar to the movie. My Mom grabbed the book out of my hands and shouted at me that I was never to look at or read such a trashy book in my life. OK. The next week I took my allowance, went back to the bookstore and bought it. I read it cover to cover, skipping all the parts about sex and drugs. It was obviously a quick read! If my mother had told me at the bookstore she didn’t think I would like the book because there was a lot of kissing in it I never would have touched it.Your son may be the same way. Tell him it has a lot of something that he doesn’t like in it and he may not want to read it. OR tell him he can read it when he is X years old.


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