Saturday, June 25, 2011

Weighing In on YA Saves

This article in the Wall Street Journal caused a firestorm in the YA world. A Twitter hashtag (#YAsaves) was quickly established to counter it and the blogosphere went crazy with responses. One of the most cogent was Sherman Alexie's which was also printed in the WSJ. Now the Huffington Post joins in, on the side of the original author with the emotional reasoning that parents have a right and responsibility to protect their kids.

I find this reasoning disingenuous for the most basic of reasons - no matter how you shelter them, teenagers are not children! Teens are transitioning into adulthood and should be helped along the road to maturity and independence. This means we must expose them to the world, help them understand the world, and give them the tools to make the judgments necessary for a healthy and mentally stable life. I can think of no better way to do this than by using literature.

The world is is a mixture of good and bad, light and dark, engrossing and banal, meaningful and pointless. The books our teens read should contain a similar mixture. Denying the dark because you find it disturbing is denying a part of the world that exists outside of our front doors. It is the parental equivalent of pulling the blankets over your head to make the scary thing go away.

Here is the hardest thing for a parent to admit (although denying it will not make it untrue) EVERY teen lies to their parents at some point. Many of them lie about really dark and horrible things. In my own case it was rape at age 14 that I lied about. I was raped by a boyfriend, the son of dear family friends, and I felt the consequences of telling were too great, so I never told my parents (or anyone for that matter until I met my future husband). At age 14, I could have really used a book that dealt honestly with the topic of date rape. I could have used the guidance and hope that such a book would have offered. My parents would not have wanted me to read such a book. They would have judged it too dark. They would have been wrong. As Sherman Alexie said, well meaning adults continually try to protect their children from the darkness that has already infected their lives.

Parents: if you REALLY want to do right by your teens, then let them choose the books they want to read and you read them too. Use the stories to start a dialogue with your kids. Discuss the conflicts raised by the stories. Examine the choices presented. LISTEN. This is how you can 'protect' your children from the big bad world - you can show them how to face it, deal with it and get over it! YA literature is one of your best resources for doing just that.


heavy hedonist said...

Excellently put! If a parent has worked to pass on her values to her children with honesty and understanding, she need not fear that they will see the world through the lens of those values.

Alicia Hendley said...

Great post! While parents might wish their teens were innocent children who are always safe from the "dark" in the world, wishing just doesn't make it so.

Tina Toler-Keel said...

My girls & I read so many YA books and it has not only helped them deal with serious situations, it has given us a closer relationship. My 13 yo said she will never do drugs because of Ellen Hopkins book CRANK. My 18 yo daughter ised Cheryl Rainfields book SCARS to help a friend. YA books are life changing & life saving. Kudos on a great blog.

Chip Michael said...

Children studies show the 1st 5-6 years of development in a child's brain is devoted to "black & white" learning --basic morality. The next 5-7 years are shades of grey with a tendency toward understand basic cause and effect. The last years until adulthood is true conscious learning where we not only remember what we learned, but why, can reason through it and make a judgement on how relevant it is to our life.

Unfortunately, the 1st lessons trump the 2nd lessons which trump the 3rd. We can reason through what we learned at a teenager, but our 'gut' reaction is going to respond to our initial learning.

IF, we protect children from all the evils in the world AND we don't provide them with some analogous form of learning (stories, books...) to help them through questions and situations they'll have as an adult, they'll have no reference on how to make decisions when faced with new situations.

The world is evolving at a faster rate now than ever before thanks to global communication (internet)and easy travel. The children today will have a very different life in 20 years --one we can scarcely imagine. Why on earth would we want to make it even harder on them to make decisions and do the "right" thing?

Prepare them NOW as much as you can as a parent. Let them read the dark stuff AND the light stuff. Talk to them about it. Have an influence into WHY the dark stuff is dark and how to cope with it, what decisions to make to avoid the dark stuff or what to do if faced with it.

IMHO - Parents that try to "protect" their children from the world are hiding their own heads in the sand. Children grow up, the face situations when we're not around and will have to make decisions based only on their experience. Reading books gives a person a broader scope of experience without having to actually touch the stove to see if it's hot.

Ashley Hope Pérez said...

Thanks for your post, Eddie, especially the bit on date rape. In my first novel, What Can't Wait, the protag is almost raped. For me, it was important to show readers that, even when a rape is prevented, there is still a sexual assault that brings with it a lot of emotional fall out. For people in Marisa's situation, the feeling can sometimes be that they don't know what they have to tell: If "it" didn't happen, then why do I feel so dirty, guilty, and angry?

All that in support of your comment about your younger self needing to find a portrayal that would resonate. If YA saves, it happens when authors craft authentic voices, not when we preach, even if it's liberal preaching. If an "issue" makes it into my work, it's because it matters to a character, not because I have a position to defend or a "lesson" to teach. I make the mirrors and windows with my words; I trust my readers to know what to do with them.

Thanks again, too, for stopping by to comment on my post at Yay for teen advocates!

Eddie Louise said...

Thanks Ashley - I wholeheartedly agree that honesty is the key to good storytelling.

It is also the reason a kid will keep reading.