Is reading "Banned" books associated with behavior problems in young readers? The influence of controversial young adult books on the psychological well-being of adolescents

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Abstract

Many books targeted toward young readers are "banned" or challenged in school and public libraries because of "edgy" violent, sexual, or occult content. Little is known about the possible relationship between such books and negative outcomes in children. Exposure to banned books and outcomes related to civic behaviors, internalizing and externalizing mental health problems, school grade point average (GPA), and violent and nonviolent crime were assessed in a sample of 282 adolescents and preadolescents aged 12-18. Control variables included child age and gender, parent and peer influences, neurotic and antisocial personality traits, and general reading for pleasure and required reading for school. Results indicated that relationships between banned books and negative outcomes were complex. Banned books were associated with increased civic behaviors concurrently. Banned books did not predict GPA, or commission of violent or nonviolent crimes. However, banned books were associated with increased internalizing and externalizing mental health symptoms. This relationship was driven by a small number of individuals, and was not linear in nature. Further, this relationship was true for girls, but much weaker in boys. GPA was predicted by increased reading for pleasure, but not required school reading. In regards to social outcomes, reading of banned books is associated with both increased civic behavior and little risk of antisocial behavior. A relationship does exist between banned book reading and mental health symptoms in a small subsample of readers although whether that relationship is causal or cathartic requires further research. © 2014 American Psychological Association.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Aggression
  • Books
  • Literature
  • Mental health
  • Prosocial behavior

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