I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal discussing young adult literature “so dark that kidnapping and pederasty and incest and brutal beatings are now just part of the run of things in novels directed, broadly speaking, at children from the ages of 12 to 18.” The article begins with a parent expressing her concern about the topics common in teen novels.
I understand the argument that illuminating real problems helps kids to realize they are not the only ones suffering the same misery. I did, in fact, write my own novel for that very reason. Kids today are, of course, more aware of crime and corruption. Movies, television shows, video games, even news articles deal much more openly with disgraced politicians, immoral religious leaders, and dishonest public servants. If there is no sensational wantonness in our own community, local news reports horrors in other parts of the country. Because of this increased exposure, conscientious parents use these situations to discuss them and put society’s abuses into perspective for their kids. What about the teens whose parents don’t take the time and trouble to educate their children? I don’t think anyone can deny many, many teenagers have little or no guidance.
Even more, though, than the general knowledge of the world’s dark side, I find the description of the detail, or “how-to,” of self-mutilation or other destructive behavior completely unnecessary. As an adult, I find such graphic depictions depressing and distasteful. Does anyone really need a step-by-step plan for rape or suicide?
So by now some of you are thinking “preach on, Sister,” and that’s all right with me. I’m way too passionate about this subject to worry about that. I also realize teen readers of this blog will likely think me hopelessly old fashioned. Oh well, it won’t be the first time, so I’ll finish the sermon with a preachy, out-of-style thought. Adults have some responsibility in how they present illegal or cruel activities to kids who are still figuring out who they are. Uncovering corruption and sleaze is all well and good, but maybe we’ve taken it a little too far. If we want young adults to have values, empathy and ideals, we will have to show them people who still possess them. Kids still need to see some good in people, even if they know to be careful of the bad. Although the young should be aware there are villains in the world, they should also recognize heroes still exist.
And besides, I still need those things myself.