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Family Almanac

Avoiding a War of Words Over What a Teen Reads

By Marguerite Kelly
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, March 4, 2005; Page C08

Q. My daughter, almost 16, is an avid reader, making it a challenge to keep her in books.

I used to bring stacks of them home from the library, but now she has read all the juvenile fiction and rejects most of my suggestions for adult books because she wants to choose the titles herself. I do forbid certain books because I strongly object to their content or because I know they will disturb my daughter, but I must judge many of her books by their covers, which can get ridiculous.

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This whole business worries me.

My daughter has struggled in school due to her attention-deficit disorder, but her strong reading skills, intelligence and large vocabulary have helped her get decent grades. People are often impressed with her poise and maturity, but I know she is still inexperienced and naive and not ready for the ideas she'll find in some of these books. She is hungry for this knowledge, however, and her book choices reflect it.

Our daughter is a great kid with two younger sisters, wonderful friends and a sweet boyfriend who adores her. She is involved in high school sports and drama; plays travel soccer; and has a loving, supportive extended family and a stable family life. We are careful about what she does, where she goes and what she sees.

We also talk openly about values and sexuality and she knows just where her father and I stand. We've never tried to shield her from different viewpoints and lifestyles, however, and have encouraged her to consider all opinions before making a decision, but I'm still afraid my daughter is looking at the world through "Bridget Jones" glasses!

Should I let her read indiscriminately from the public library's adult-fiction section? Is she ready to weigh these ideas herself?

A.Yes, it's time to let your daughter read adult fiction.

She is ready for this important rite of passage, but she probably isn't ready to consider, fully and finally, the many ideas she will run across. That doesn't matter nor does it mean that you should ban books freely. You're just giving your daughter a chance to weigh the ideas she reads about before she encounters them for the first time in real life or while watching MTV.

Teenagers learn to rely on their own judgment, bit by bit, but only if their parents gradually give them the freedom to think for themselves. Adolescence is hard work, for both of you.

Your daughter must break the bonds with you, strand by strand, so she can figure out exactly who she is, and you must give her the right to try and sometimes to fail.

This may involve her tears (and yours) and many long discussions when she makes a bad choice, but that's what life is all about. Everybody makes mistakes; what matters is how quickly we pick ourselves up and try again.

Open your daughter's eyes by bringing home a selection of books for yourself and invite her and your husband to read them if they'd like. They probably will if you choose well-written books that are funny or sad, about rich people or poor ones, set in olden times or today, or that are full of suspense or suspicion.

For a good cross-section, go to the library and check out these books, or buy them secondhand from Amazon.com for much less than the list prices given here: Get anything by P.G. Wodehouse, particularly "Life With Jeeves" (Penguin, $15.95), "The Code of the Woosters" (Vintage, $9) and "The Most of P.G. Wodehouse" (Touchstone, $16); such classic mysteries as "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier (Avon, $7.50), "The ABC Murders" by Agatha Christie (Berkley, $5.99), and "The Jim Chee Mysteries," a collection of three wonderful novels by Tony Hillerman (HarperCollins, $26.95).

Choose other books because their brilliant stories reflect their time and place, such as: "The Necklace and Other Short Stories" by Guy de Maupassant (Dover, $2), "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain (Penguin, $7), "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Scribner, $12.95), "The Scarlet Letter" by Nathaniel Hawthorne (Modern Library, $5.95), "To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee (Warner, $6.99), "The Grapes of Wrath" by John Steinbeck (Penguin, $15), and the latest fine novel about adolescence, "Prep" by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, $21.95).

Every one of these books will encourage your daughter to talk with you about the plots and the characters, as long as you don't criticize her opinions or deplore her reactions.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.comor to Box 15310, Washington, D.C. 20003.


© 2005 The Washington Post Company


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