The media we consume often affects our mental health—and that goes double for kids.
Children’s minds are kind of like sponges. As they grow up, they eagerly soak up any and all information presented to them. When this info comes from a trustworthy place—say, from friends, family, or trusted media—it can educate kids and help them feel prepared for all sorts of circumstances. When a child is exposed to info from sources that aren’t so age-appropriate, however, the impact on children’s mental health isn’t so positive.
This is especially true when we consider inappropriate children’s books.
Reading is perhaps the most beneficial hobby for children. However, reading stories that feature adult themes like violence, graphic imagery, or explicit language may expose children to concepts that their brains aren’t quite ready to understand yet. Such exposure can overwhelm their developing minds and negatively impact mental health.
Let’s take a look at some of the ways inappropriate children’s books impact mental health. By doing so, we can gain the skills necessary to help our kids seek out literature that nurtures, rather than neglects.
What Are Inappropriate Children’s Books?
Before we dive into our chat about mental health, we need to answer one important question: What do we mean when we say “inappropriate children’s books?”
In a nutshell, inappropriate children’s books are works of children’s literature which contain content or themes that are unsuitable for kids.
For example, some children’s books written in the early 20th century contain language that reinforces stereotypes and promotes disrespectful behavior towards people of other backgrounds, races, and religions than one’s own. Today’s kids grow up in a world which stands for respect and understanding, and such books can negatively impact moldable minds.
Other inappropriate children’s books may include violent content, use inappropriate language, promote negative values, or discuss adult themes that are too complex for children to understand.
How Do Inappropriate Children’s Books Impact Mental Health?
Inappropriate children’s books can impact mental health in a few ways—and none of them are positive. Let’s take a look:
- Inappropriate books cause anxiety. Books that contain graphic violence or scary imagery can make kids feel anxious or scared. While anxiety is a normal and necessary emotion, it can be dangerous when it hangs around too long, occasionally manifesting itself in physical symptoms like insomnia and irritability. Thankfully, anxiety doesn’t have to be the end-all be-all—check out the Child Mind Institute for some amazing resources parents can use to help kids deal with strong emotions like anxiety.
- Inappropriate books can desensitize kids. Inappropriate media often makes kids feel scared or uncomfortable. However, prolonged exposure to mature content found in some books can desensitize kids to these emotions, in essence removing the shock factor that keeps kids from replicating what they read about.
- Inappropriate books can cause behavioral issues. Inappropriate children’s books that glorify negative behavior, like bullying, can influence how kids act. Young readers may think that what they read about is cool or acceptable. In some cases, they may even imitate or adopt these behaviors. This in turn can make it difficult for kids to positively connect with peers and adults.
- Inappropriate books can create body image issues. Many children’s books feature characters that embody the height of our modern beauty standard. Such narratives promote unhealthy beauty standards—both in boys and girls. Kids and younger teens may begin comparing their own bodies and looks to those presented in the book. Unrealistic images like these can lead kids to develop a negative body image or body dysmorphia, both of which can contribute to lowered self esteem.
- Inappropriate books can be harmful to a child’s identity. As mentioned earlier, books that reinforce stereotypes or support discriminatory views can impact the way a child understands diversity. If a child belongs to a group that is put down by a children’s book, it can make them question their own identity and shatter self-esteem. On the other hand, if a child is not part of the group, they may begin thinking that it is okay to discriminate—which it never is.
- Inappropriate books can hinder a child’s emotional regulation. The best children’s books give kids tools to control their emotions and cope with difficult circumstances. Inappropriate books, on the other hand, may teach kids negative coping strategies, such as bullying or lashing out at loved ones. This can lead to difficulties in expressing feelings, resolving conflicts, and navigating challenges in a healthy manner.
How Can I Help My Child Avoid Inappropriate Children’s Books?
As we’ve learned, inappropriate literature can have an overwhelmingly negative impact on mental health. Yikes!
Thankfully, it’s easy to help our kids avoid these challenges. Let’s take a look at a few ways parents and educators can help kids avoid inappropriate children’s books and preserve mental health in the process.
- Be aware of what your child is reading. Often, kids wind up reading inappropriate literature because parents and guardians are unaware that the book isn’t appropriate. By taking the time to check up on the books that your little reader is devouring, you can help steer them away from books that promote negative values. Read through their books yourself and do some research online to determine if the book aligns with your child’s maturity level.
- Discuss what they’re reading. Opening a dialogue with your child is often one of the best ways to keep them safe from inappropriate media. Kids love to discuss their most recent reads. Take some time to ask your child about the books they’re reading. This gives you the chance to gain a better understanding of the lessons they’re learning while also giving them the opportunity to ask any questions that the narrative inspires.
- Go to the library together. When your child is ready for a new read, take a family outing to the library together! Let them pick out a few books, and make sure to do some research and determine whether or not they are appropriate before you check out.
- Give your child recommendations. Nobody knows your child better than you do—and thus, nobody knows the kinds of books that are most appropriate for them better than you. Give your child a few recommendations of books that you think they would enjoy and learn positive lessons from. If you’re stumped, check out this list of Time’s 100 best children’s books!
- Talk about mental health. One of the best ways to help your child maintain their mental health is to have open discussions about their state of mind. Ask them about their day and be prepared to support them if they need to talk through challenges. Don’t be afraid to be open about your own mental health, as well! Many kids learn best by example, and seeing a parent openly discuss mental health can help children feel more comfortable doing it themselves.
Stick With the Good Stuff
We live in a world where inappropriate media seems to lurk around every corner—and on the shelves at your local library are no different. Inappropriate children’s literature is often hiding in between copies of age-appropriate books. When kids read these books, it can have a negative impact on mental health, leading to increased levels of anxiety, desensitization to adult themes, and lowered self-esteem.
Thankfully, it’s easy to help our children avoid inappropriate children’s books by discussing their reading habits, recommending books that you know are appropriate, and taking a family trip to the library together.
As parents and educators, it is our responsibility to safeguard children’s mental health by directing our kids to positive, age-appropriate literature. By doing so, we can build an environment that nurtures emotional well-being, inspires young minds to thrive, and has an overwhelmingly positive impact on mental health.
Literature isn’t the only form of media that can be inappropriate for children. Social media, television shows, and online websites can similarly expose kids to adult themes. That’s why Troomi smartphones remove these threats altogether. Click here to learn more about how Troomi prioritizes mental health by keeping kids safe as they explore their digital horizons.