virginian If you are not a fan of the 1960’s western television show, The Virginian , then this title means nothing to you. As a caregiver for an aging relative, I can almost repeat all the dialogue. One episode opens as a young woman and her mother are traveling out west to visit relatives. On the train, the young woman is reading a dime novel featuring the western hero, Deadeye Dick. When an older man saves her from falling off her horse after tumbleweeds spook him, just like Deadeye Dick saved Bessie Burton, she has her hero. Throughout the episode the mother understands that her daughter’s impressionable age is to blame rather than the dime novels and never forbids her the joy of reading them. While watching the show, I wondered how today’s mothers guide their daughters’ reading choices through the immense choices available.

During an internet search, I saw that Wikipedia touts Samuel Richardson’s popular 1740 novel Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded as one of the first romance novels. From Jane Austen to serial romances in women’s magazines, from Georgette Heyer to Mills and Boon and finally the explosion of the genre with Kathleen Woodiwiss’s The Flame and The Flower, young girls today have a myriad of choices available to them. And even if your daughter or niece is not interested in romance now, the chance of her wanting to read one in her adolescence is very high, especially with books like Twilight being made into movies. I eased into reading romance books while in my early teens. Like many readers here, my introduction to this genre started with Harlequin romance and Georgette Heyer. While I had an aunt who disapproved, my mother never censored my reading, and we had a long history of loving the same types of books.

If you are a romance reader yourself, then I suspect that you won’t have a problem with your daughter reading romance in some form or fashion. While my father never prohibited me from reading, he did think that romance books were garbage. While reading romance in general may not be an issue, parents still must decide whether to regulate book chocies or not. My mother didn’t have to do that because I didn’t have access to the selection that young girls have today. I do think that there are many books out there now that are not age appropriate for tweens or young teens. Just like movies may have ratings from G to NC-17, I think the most important aspect is being aware of a particular book’s content.

In my experience, teens self-limit their own selections. It seems that ten to twelve year olds often read about teens. Young teens read books with slightly older heroines dating, falling in love, and dealing with high school. By fifteen or sixteen, most girls are reading on to more adult novels with stories involving characters of all ages. While I haven’t read a lot of YA books, the ones that I have addressed many complex issues, like eating or anxiety disorders, parent’s infidelity, death, divorce, teen pregnancy etc. In comparison, the Harlequin Romance line almost seems tame. Introducing one’s daughter to romance books is not something done in a vacuum. Usually it fits around the parameters you have already set. If your daughter is watching romantic comedy movies, then there is no reason for her not to read some romance books depending on her maturity level.

So are there positive reasons for your daughter to read romance besides the fact that she is reading vs. watching television? If you are aware of the book’s plot, then it is a definite way to talk about dating, falling in love, and of course, sex. Is there a downside? While different readers have different value systems regarding sex and relationships, recently I have read several contemporary books where the hero and heroine elect to have a casual, “no strings” sexual relationship because they are attracted to each other. I think many mothers hope that their daughter’s first experience is special, and that there is more emotional caring than this between her and her partner.

If your thirteen year old daughter has been reading kisses-only sorts of books for a year and you just finished a steamy hot book with descriptive sex scenes and you find her in her room already on chapter five of it, do you take the book away and tell her it is too old for her right now, or let her finish the book? Of course there are no right or wrong answers, because so much depends on your belief system, your daughter’s maturity, and the book. Off the top of my head, I would let her finish the book, and then use this opportunity for open dialogue.

I would love to hear about your experiences. At what age did you start reading romance books? Did you have your mother’s approval? If you have a daughter that is reading romance, at what age did she start reading them? Do you pre-approve her choices or just let her read as she likes? Do you think there is an appropriate age for reading the sexually explicit love scenes?

– Leigh Davis