There’s recently been a huge debate as to whether “dark” YA (Young Adult  fiction dealing with bullying, rape, violence, sex, incest, cutting and so on) is appropriate for the teenage crowd.  It all started with this Wall Street Journal article (why the WSJ is covering this topic is another discussion).

Seriously?  I totally can’t comprehend why parents go into denial about what it’s like to be a teen.  I remember what it was like.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have kids, but I do remember.  And I’m, ahem, in the age range of parents of today’s teens.

Here’s what I remember:

  • Bullying.  It was rampant if you were different.  Gay, a nerd, poor…whatever.  If you became a target of a bully, or even worse, a clique of kids, life could be hell.
  • Abuse.  Emotional abuse or physical abuse.  (I was totally lucky here, my parents totally didn’t abuse me.)
  • Divorce.  I wasn’t so lucky here.  My parents split when I was entering that age range.  That put a lot of strain on them, and, well, shit flows downhill.
  • It was the start of the ‘latchkey kid’ era.  Both parents were forced to work to make ends meet.  Kids were raised by the television, or by their peers.  I was lucky here, one of my parents stayed at home.
  • Neglect.  In some cases, parents had ‘stuff’ going on in their lives which prevented them from sufficiently raising their kids.  I wasn’t so lucky here, as the divorce and other issues had a serious impact on my later years.
  • Alcoholism.  Some kids had alcoholic parents, which caused some of the above.  Alcohol became an example of a coping strategy for some.
  • Sexual Abuse.  Rape, incest, molestation.  From people I’ve talked to, this was more common than was let on.
  • Basic Teen Angst.  Hormones.  Sex.  Romantic feelings.  Grades.  It’s all there.
  • Body image issues.  Leading to anorexia, bulimia and so on.
  • World Events.  Seriously, there was a lot of anxiety by a lot of folk in my younger YA years that we would be wiped off the face of the earth by world war III.  We weren’t sheltered from that.  AIDS also appeared on the scene.  Yah it was a ‘gay disease’ to adults, but honestly, it was a guaranteed death sentence if one even came near a gay person.

I’m sure there are many more concerns kids had to go through that I didn’t hear about. From what I can tell, as I actually talk to people who are just out of their YA years, this stuff hasn’t gone away.  It’s worse.  We’re afraid we’ll be wiped out by terrorism.  We’ve had a war going on for a decade.  More parents need to work, leaving their kids to be raised by the internet.

 How do kids cope with this stuff?  As parents seem to be in total denial, and media targeted towards teens tends to be a bit candy coated,  I’ve seen and heard of stuff like:

  • Dissociation.  Kids deny their emotions, their bodies, even deny their identity, leading to self-abuse.  Eating disorders, cutting, stunted emotional growth.
  • Psychiatry.  My mother often sees teens in her psychotherapy practice.  Parents bring them in to deal with behavioral issues.  More often than not, according to my mom, it’s the parents who need guidance, not the kid.  The teens are just being teens.  Adolescence is crazy, but kids grow out of it if they get good role models and such.  Often, parents also throw prozac, ritalin, and other psychiatric drugs at their kids.  Some kids were/are even institutionalized for things like homosexuality…
  • Runaways.  An obvious solution for abusive or neglectful parents.  Not surprisingly, a huge number of runaways are gay.  I volunteered at Lambert House for awhile, a drop-in center for LGBT youth.  The stories of parental abuse, and even abuse on the streets were chilling.
  • Violence.  Seems we’re getting lots of messages that violence is a valid strategy for dealing with lives problems.  Makes ya wonder, although there are also studies that show that exposure to violent media doesn’t cause violence.
  • Crime.  Some kids cope by taking their frustrations out on society.

So seriously.  Why are so many parents so opposed to exposing teens to media containing positive coping strategies for all this awful stuff.  “Dark” YA fiction is that media.

Some examples…
 Harry Potter lost his parents and was neglected and abused.  And he was ‘different.’  What’s the message of the series?  There are other folk like you.  Being different can make you strong.  Good friends will support you.  All very positive.

 Heathers?  Abuse.  Dissociation.  Bullying.  Violence can end badly for everyone involved.  Get your head out of your ass and hang out with your real friends.

 I guess the one thing we shoulda been taught back then.  Denial is not a valid coping strategy.