BookTok: What Parents Need to Know About What Their Kids are Reading

BookTok: What Parents Need to Know About What Their Kids are Reading
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BookTok: What Parents Need to Know (and How They Should Be Involved in What Their Children Read)

BookTok, a niche community on TikTok focused on books and literature, has been gaining traction recently. Its reach has even expanded beyond the app: you can find displays in Barnes and Noble’s and other book stores dedicated to showcasing BookTok’s current favorites. 

With over 29 million videos posted to the BookTok tag, more people than ever are getting book recommendations from TikTok, including plenty of young adult readers. 

But there’s no real way of controlling what books get put on your child’s For You Page, and many of the most popular books on BookTok may not be suitable for young adult readers. 

What do parents need to know about BookTok? And how involved should parents be in what their children are reading, especially as they get older?

We sat down with Dr. Erin O’Connor, chief of education for parenting platform Cooper, to talk about BookTok, how to find appropriate books, benefits kids of reading books of all kinds and more. 

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How is the rising popularity of BookTok impacting young adult readers?

O’Connor says one of the best things about BookTok is that it’s getting teens and adolescents to read. 

Reading helps teens and adolescents develop important emotional and cognitive skills. It allows kids to process more emotionally sophisticated content more easily than if they were accessing this content on the ever-moving world of social media, for example. 

There are countless benefits that come with pleasure reading for teens and adolescents, so “there’s just a huge upside” in creating a space “where it’s cool to be discussing books and be engaging in these sorts of interactions,” O’Connor says. 

While BookTok is beneficial because it’s getting teens and adolescents to read, it should still be approached with caution. 

Like many other social media sites that teens and adolescents use, there’s not a lot of control over what content is put in front of users. As a result, book recommendations from BookTok don’t have the chance to be vetted by parents. 

“Some of these books have a lot of adult, mature themes around unhealthy relationships, violence, things like that, that are hard to judge outside of the context of reading,” O’Connor says. 

How much should parents be involved in what their kids are reading?

The degree of how much a parent should be involved with what their child is different for every family. But it can never hurt to have knowledge about what your child is choosing to read, especially for adolescents and young teens.

O’Connor recommends sites like Common Sense Media if you’re looking for a more researched opinion on what a book contains. 

Or, you can get on BookTok yourself and see what’s out there. 

“That’s a good way to just get a quick sort of understanding of what your young adult is seeing and what their interest is in a book,” O’Connor says. 

It’s also important to remember that even when young adult readers start to gravitate towards more mature books, O’Connor says it’s “not always the content that we’re worried about that they’re interested in.”

“[Adolescence is] a challenging time in terms of friendships and identity and sexuality and all these things that children are often seeking information out about anyway,” O’Connor says. 

When dealing with teenagers, give them some space and privacy about what they’re reading. 

“If they seem to be enjoying the book and able to handle the content, you can talk to them about some of the themes, but you don’t necessarily have to be reading along with them,” O’Connor says. 

But for younger children, reading the same book at the same time as them can be a great way to start a conversation with them about themes they may be reading about. 

O’Connor recommends being aware of series or books by the same author, where the maturity level and themes might “ramp up” as they go on. For example, maybe the first two books in a series are okay for your 13 year old to read, but you may suggest that they hold off on reading the next books until they’re 16. 

While there may be temptation to shield children from more mature themes, remember that censoring what they read may not stop them from encountering them. “A lot of these themes and topics, they’re going to be seeing them on Youtube, TikTok, Instagram,” O’Connor says. “And reading is a good way to digest that material in a little bit more of a removed way.”

O’Connor says it’s important to, as a parent, encourage open communication and be ready to discuss these mature themes when teens and adolescents come across them. 

BookTok is a way for readers of all ages to get exposed to books they might not have found otherwise. What’s the benefit of letting young readers read books of all kinds?

O’Connor says reading a variety of books can help with empathy development, especially in teen and adolescent readers. 

“I think it’s really the exposure to not only diverse voices in terms of the authors, but also diverse experiences in terms of the characters, and seeing and understanding the thought processes that they go through as they make decisions,” O’Connor says. “And thinking about yourself and how you make decisions can be very viable.” 

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