Earlier this month I wrote a post called “Dropping the F-Bomb in YA Lit” and cited a study done by Brigham Young University that counted the number of swear words in bestselling YA novels. The results? There is cursing in most YA books. This sparked outrage from some and a nod to reality from others. But this study didn’t just start a conversation about profanity, it trotted out the debate about whether or not teen books should have a ratings system.
An article in the US News asked the question: “Is It Time To Rate Young Adult Books for Mature Content?” What struck me about this article, and all the other articles and blogs that chimed in on the topic, is how they all use the words “children” or “kids” to refer to readers of YA. I want to correct them: it’s “Young ADULT” not “Older Kid” books. Teenagers are no longer children.
Even parents who encourage discussion about sex and drugs and other activities teenagers are curious about have a hard time seeing their offspring as young adults. It’s not that parents forget what they were like as teenagers, it’s that they fail to see that their child has crossed into young adulthood. And perhaps they do forget how soon that happens.
I hit puberty at the pretty average age of twelve. I wasn’t even officially a teenager, but it marked the start of me asserting my adultness (albeit behind my parents’ backs) by swearing like a sailor, being curious about drugs and alcohol, and thinking constantly about sex (long before I was actually doing it). Why? Because I was growing up and I wanted to know how to be an adult. It’s that simple. Rating, censoring or outright banning books is never going to stop or delay a child’s metamorphosis to adulthood. In fact, I’d argue that not letting them read “mature content” books is more harmful.
There wasn’t such a thing as YA books when I was a teenager, and I had to learn about sex and drugs and violence by reading adult books like PET SEMATARY and FLOWERS IN THE ATTIC. Not only did I emerge unscarred, I did not imitate anything I read. I repeat: I did not imitate the mature content in these novels.
I emphasize that point because it seems as if this is the main worry re swearing/sex/drugs in YA lit, as if teenagers would never think to engage in such behavior if they didn’t learn about it in a book. I wager it’s the opposite – teens already know about these things and want to know more. YA books are a safe way to learn, and teens will learn somehow – better to find out meth can ruin your life by reading CRANK than by doing meth in real life.
Still, what’s the harm in rating these books “mature content”? Well, that label would limit a lot of books to older teens when younger readers may need to read these books even more. After all, drug dealers don’t ID.
In conclusion, YA novels are a safe place to explore mature topics such as sex, drugs, violence and abuse. Restricting some books via a rating system won’t protect teenagers from these things, and may in fact do more harm by preventing younger teens from accessing information that could help them deal with these issues.
But what about the swearing? At least put a warning sticker on books that have swearing! Fine, but just so you know, that’s only going to encourage the “kids” to read them.
Next Up on the A to Z Challenge… Robin with “Y” and the “Yeti Inside My Head”
Next up from Heather… I haven’t written about Writing Craft in a while, so I’ll do something on dialogue or conflict or just finally writing!