An author friend of mine recently started a discussion about YA books and the types of adult situations authors are putting into them now, such as drugs, sex, divorce, abuse, and so on. I know that there’s been a lot of discussion about this topic in recent days, so I thought I’d bring it up here to see what you thought. On one side of the argument, teens need to read about realistic characters to whom they can relate. It’s an unfortunate circumstance of today’s society, but not every teen is going to grow up in the Leave It to Beaver style household, and those teens who don’t need to have books and characters they can identify with.
On the other side, how much of what teens read and see today influence how they act? Below is my response to my friend’s discussion. I’m fully aware that I may be in a conservative minority, but to each his (or her) own.
Indeed it’s true that a teen who has been abused, picked on, and so on finds comfort in reading about other teens who are going through–or have been through–the same experiences. Being a teenager is an extremely difficult and sometimes painful time for everyone. All you want is to feel normal and blend in with the other kids your age.
However, because of all these things, this is also one of the most influential times in a person’s life, and teens will do, say, or act however they feel is necessary so they don’t fall into the “weirdo” bracket. That means that if everyone else is reading about sex, drugs and alcohol, abuse, and language (or are participating in these things), they’re going to at least seriously consider doing them so they’ll fit in.
I think they should break down the overall YA section into more categories so that parents really know what their teens are getting in to. Right now, the YA category really falls under 13–14 year olds through 18–19 year olds (and in some cases slightly older). But in most cases, a thirteen-year-old kid isn’t going to be dealing with the same kind of life situations as, say, an eighteen-year-old high school graduate. Similarly, the thirteen-year-old shouldn’t be reading about adult situations and explicit things, such as rape, drug addicts, and so on. (If you don’t sell R rated movie tickets to minors, why would you sell books to them that depict the same things?)
I’m not saying that all YA/MG books should be butterflies and rainbows and marshmallow clouds; life isn’t like that. As teens, we’re gradually introduced to the adult world through life experience and education, and we should present adult situations in a similar way. I am saying that “YA books” that contain graphic scenes, lots of adult situations, etc. should be upgraded to the adult general audience and moved off the YA shelves.
Kids grow up too fast these days anyway. What’s the harm in letting them be children in their books for just a bit longer?