Young readers have to be left to find their own way to books they like
Some parts of the offending piece – which presents book-screening for adolescents as a duty the conscientious parent should undertake – are insidiously softly-spoken; shoulder-pattingly reasonable rather than straightforwardly, stridently seeking to save the children. "Now, whether you care if adolescents spend their time immersed in ugliness probably depends on your philosophical outlook," Gurdon says. "Reading about homicide doesn't turn a man into a murderer; reading about cheating on exams won't make a kid break the honour code. But the calculus that many parents make is less crude than that: It has to do with a child's happiness, moral development and tenderness of heart."
Who doesn't rate moral and emotional development; who doesn't want to give their children brightness, hope, and riverbank picnics, keeping them both from the Wild Wood and the Wide World? Nevertheless, I take issue quite vehemently with the question that she has framed – whether or not we want our feverishly reading adolescents deluged with blood, acclimatised to rape, encountering a spectrum of beastly "pathologies" in fictional form – as well as her negative answer.
Setting aside the fact that you can't read (for instance) Euripides without encountering child murder, rape, violence and abusive parents, and the fact that it's extremely uncommon to find an affecting and meaningful book devoid of uncomfortable content, the #YAsaves hashtaggers have overwhelmingly declared that exposure to upsetting, revolting, nightmarish fictional material is beneficial to people who've had similar experiences, and mind-broadening for those who haven't. I find Gurdon's idea that reading a distressing account of self-harm, for instance, would prompt troubled adolescents to follow suit entirely baffling. But I can easily envisage a self-harmer being comforted by the realisation that s/he is not alone, or a friend coming to understanding and sympathy as a result of their reading.