So ... I haven't been a teenager for awhile. The voice in my head is very much the same, I think, and that's the voice with which I write. But I'm definitely an adult. And as an adult, my exposure to teenagers and children in general has admittedly been skewed.
I work with kids who are having a rough go of things.
As it turns out ... No.
I mean, sure, some teens find the adolescent years incredibly painful. I've already blogged about the incidence of depression in teenagers, as well as relationship violence.
But that's only some. Not all.
Research shows that only about 20% of kids experience significant conflict and emotional upset during these years. And many of those kids have other risk factors (for example, some disruption in their family or some genetic predisposition to mental illness). Twenty percent is still a lot. It means that in every high school clasroom, there are at least a few kids who are having a very tough time. But ...
That leaves 80% who experience the teen years as (mostly) a time of happiness and fun. In other words, the idea that adolescence is automatically a time of angsty suffering is ... a myth.
Are you surprised?
Well, if you base your understanding of reality on YA literature, you might be.
You know why that is, right? Conflict keeps us interested. Disruption and trauma and drama ... it keeps us reading. And I don't think it's because we're just curious about the train wreck, actually. I think it helps us, whether we're adults or teens.
If you were or are one of those for whom adolescence is a nonstop tunnel o'suffering, then these books can help you KNOW you're not alone. You can relate to the characters. You can put words to your own struggle. And you can connect with other readers who feel the same way.
If you were or are one of those for whom adolescence is pretty ok, well, books about depression and drug abuse and suicide and rape and bullying can help you, too. They help you understand where others might be coming from. They help you be grateful for what you have. But also ... they let you explore. I think we all need that to some extent--to roam, in a safe way, the bounds of the world and all the things that can happen, even if they haven't happened to you.
This is one of the reasons I feel so sad about the outrage over books that expose some of the ugly things that happen to teens. However, because of the complexity of that issue, that's a post for another time.
Speaking of posts, be sure to check out Mental Health Monday at Laura's blog, and Medical Mondays on Lydia's blog.
What do you think about the portrayal of adolescent angst in YA lit? What about television/movies (I don't know about you, but I think there's a difference)? Realistic? Helpful? Dangerous? Misleading? Healing? All of the above?