Monday, June 6, 2011

My Take on the Wall Street Journal Article About YA

Yesterday I watched Twitter explode in response to a Wall Street Journal article by Mrs. Meghan Cox Gurdon, entitled "Darkness Too Visible." In the article, the author makes the argument that YA is rife with all flavors of depravity and peddled by editors eager to "bulldoze coarseness and misery into children's lives."

My initial reaction to the article was incredulous amusement--when my agent sent me the link, I assumed I was going to be reading something well-informed and balanced. However, it was immediately apparent by the contemptuous and smugly dismissive tone that this was a completely one-sided opinion piece.

OK. The lady is entitled to her opinion.

The problem I have is if her opinion is mistaken for thorough, well-informed analysis.

Here there be dragons. Or, er,
OCD and depression. BEWARE.
Her argument: YA is full of "hideously distorted portrayals of the way life really is." And then she targets several books (most of which I have read, some of which I have discussed here on this blog) that include main characters grappling with mental illness, trauma, or substance abuse. She implies that describing these struggles in "stomach-clenching detail" is harmful to teens, and further implies  books that either omit or gloss over these conditions are preferable.

To which I say: huh?


Guess what? One in five teens has a diagnosable mental illness. Anxiety? Thirteen percent. Mood disorders? Seven percent. Disruptive behavior disorders (this includes ADHD and conduct disorder)? Ten percent. And that's just a few categories. In EVERY high school classroom, there are at least a few adolescents struggling with one of these conditions, not to mention abuse, bullying, dating violence, or other trauma.

To pretend these individuals don't exist is offensive. To imply books written for teens should not include them--as if their experiences are not real, as if knowing what they really go through is harmful to others, as if reading books full of sunshine and light will fix them--is highly distressing. And, I'll say it: harmful.

I mean, is that the message we want to send to teens? Let's brush kids with problems under the rug? Let's only tell the stories of well-adjusted kids from two-parent homes? If you read about someone doing drugs, having sex, self-mutilating, feeling depressed, going through a trauma,  or living the brutal reality of poverty and violence, you'll be messed up or catch a mental illness like a bad cold?

There's NO empirical evidence to suggest that is true.

Mrs. Gurdon asserts that reading about a behavior, such as self-mutilation, gives teens ideas they do not otherwise have and encourages them to try it. Although she probably didn't know it, she was referring to the concept of social learning, a well-tested theory which postulates that human beings learn through watching others engage in a behavior and get rewarded for it. An example: teenage girls might watch ultra-skinny models vaunted for their beauty and portrayed as living glamorous lives, and get the idea that starving themselves is a good idea. There is evidence to suggest that is, to some extent, true (though the mechanisms behind eating disorders are MORE COMPLICATED than that by far, or every girl in the US would have an eating disorder).

However, is that really the case with YA? For those of you who read this blog regularly, you know the kind of books I read. Nearly all of them are about mental illness or trauma. I've read dozens of them. Not once have I read a YA book that glorified unhealthy behavior. YA authors are brilliant at showing the complex consequences of their protagonists' choices. No, the writers are not preaching. But OH YES are they showing realistic outcomes. Do they cultivate sympathy for their characters? Absolutely. Do they show their characters getting out of situations unscathed? No way.

If someone publishes a peer-reviewed prospective study of how reading specific content in YA leads directly to the portrayed behavior (while controlling for other predictive factors, of course), I will humbly eat these words. Until then ...

Mrs. Gurdon also laments that YA books that realistically portray mental illness or disturbance might normalize this stuff.

To which I say: ARGH.

Again, recall how many teens experience mental illness. Think about what they face. In one study, ninety percent of kids diagnosed with a mental illness (and taking medication) reported experiencing some type of stigma. They were socially isolated and felt ashamed of their conditions. Do increased feelings of shame and isolation help a person to heal? One guess as to the answer.

Research shows that the more middle schoolers and older teens know about mental illness and its treatment, the more healthy their attitudes become. Research also shows that fostering empathy is an important tool to prevent bullying. Based on my observations, YA does two things relevant to those research findings: it shows kids they're not the only ones going through this stuff. And it shows all kids the perspectives and experiences of others with whom they share the world.

But here's the thing: each kid is an individual with strengths and vulnerabilities. So is every parent. What will be good, even redemptive and life-changing, to one teen will be triggering or disturbing to another. Just like everything else, literature isn't one-size-fits-all. When parents come into my office and ask if roughhousing or video games are okay, for example, I do NOT say, "no." I answer based on my knowledge of the child (and the parent). And the answer is not AN ANSWER. It's a discussion. A collaborative consideration of the individual kid, parent, and environment.

With teenagers, it's a more complex conversation. At that point, it becomes a matter of negotiation and problem-solving rather than one of parent-decides-kid-obeys (actually, ideally, parents begin having problem-solving discussions with their children long before adolescence--the earlier you're in the game, the more likely your kid is to keep letting you play). Parent-child communication--and appropriate parental limit-setting-- protects kids from all sorts of risks. Parental autocracy? Doesn't.

What I've seen many, many YA authors suggest is that parents should read alongside their kids. These authors are NOT saying every kid should read every book. Rather, they are saying parents should talk to their kids. Decide together (and the older the teen, the more freedom he/she has to make independent decisions). Have frank discussions about the material. Be open and receptive and don't freak out. This is the approach mental health professionals happen to advocate as well.
All right, I'm done.

Have you read the WSJ article? What did you think? Are you concerned about teens being desensitized? That mental illness or substance abuse will be "normalized"? Do you find there is a dearth of light-hearted or "innocent" books out there? Are you a parent? Are you having to negotiate the world of books with your kid, and how are you accomplishing that?

49 comments:

  1. I have encountered parents like this in my 20-odd years of teaching. I had a parent rant and rave at me once about the "melodrama" in children's books such as The Bread Sister of Sinking Creek and the depravity in books by Sharon Creech. I had to send every book I wanted to use in my class to her for approval ahead of time, and she rejected them all. I was forced to give her daughter separate assignments, reading only "classics" like Trumpet of the Swan and The Swiss Family Robinson.

    I wonder what happened when her daughter became old enough to fight back against her mother's cushiony view of the world?

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  2. I wasn't aware of the fray on Twitter about the WSJ article, but after reading it in your blog, I can understand her point of view.. not that I agree... but it seems like it's based out of fear. With the stats you gave about mental illness in teens, I think parents (and grandparents like me) are scared to death about what causes teens to do things like self mutilation, drugs, and suicide. Where, when, and how does mental illness come into a child? Is there an answer or a clear preventative? I don't believe reading a book can cause mental illness or destructive/risky behavior and even if parents supervise their teen's book choices, there are alway friends whose parents don't. And kids can always get their hands on whatever they want to it anyway it seems. (I snuck into my mom's dresser and read Tropic of Cancer when I was 12 ).

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  3. Agree %100 that parents should know what their kids are reading and read it with them, if not BEFORE them to make sure they're prepared to discuss these things. Kids with issues need to read about other kids in similar situations. It's very important to find that common thread that makes them feel somewhat normal. But they shouldn't be left to deal with these subjects on their own. That;s why parents need to open up the line of communication on these issues.

    Great topic! I shall tweet it. :)

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  4. There are always addleheads like Mrs Gurdon who completely misunderstand literature. She reminds me of the woman, whose name I forget, who suggested that children should not be told the facts of life but should be allowed to believe that babies were 'found'. I don't know what age she thought they should be before they found out the shocking truth.

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  5. When I first saw the article and the blow-up on Twitter over the weekend, I was kind of blase about the whole thing. I had the attitude: the WSJ is full if ignorant ultra right wing capitalists who have always been known for being rather dickish about art and expression, so we shouldn't be shocked or scared by their oft repeated ignorance.

    Then I thought about it some more. I went and looked up depravity, just to refresh my memory. I got pissed.

    I could go on forever about this topic, but the bottom line for me is this: read what your kids read. Don't hide the truth about the world from them. Pretending that there is no evil in the world will not protect them from it.

    I also make an argument about self-mutilation and books about it at the end of my post. I would love to hear your response to that if you have a moment later, Sarah.

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  6. Most YA is written true to form for its intended audience. I honestly don't know a YA book that was written without some lesson twined within, some pang of childhood we all can relate to. It's a chance to spotlight the development into adulthood that runs the gamut from humorous to serious and even pitiful moments. But those tween/teen moments exist. The article saddens me because of the bias angle taken but also gave me hope. YA literature does spark interest, even if that interest is misguided. It binds us writers who explore the ails of youth through our writing.

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  7. This is a very informative post. I love that there are people like you willing to debate such an article with KNOWN facts.

    I felt sick reading the article.

    No, I don't think such content will 'normalize' things to a degree where teens think hurting themselves is acceptable. But I do think it will normalize it enough for them to realize they are not alone and can find support. And this is WHAT WE NEED!

    I'm not a parent. But I grew up with a parent who was FAR from normal. So I'm going to say, from the perspective of my younger self, I would have loved to have books like this to read. I had no where to turn. If I had have had such books to lose myself in, I may have been able to deal with my feelings a lot earlier in life.

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  8. Bravo!! This is one of the best responses we've read (out of about 50), and we agree with EVERYTHING you've said here. Well done!

    "OK. The lady is entitled to her opinion.

    The problem I have is if her opinion is mistaken for thorough, well-informed analysis."

    Exactly. Like Em-Musing, we believe her piece was written out of fear, and that she was trying to spread her fear to other parents instead of tackling it for herself. It's a shame that the WSJ allowed it to fly under their banner.

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  9. I'm so glad you chimed in on this Sarah, and what a well-thought out post you've put out there. The teen years are already passionate, heart-wrenching and often painful as it is. . . to ignore some of the social issues that plague teens now is just dangerous.

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  10. Until this morning, I didn't know about the article. I live in Canada and don't follow Twitter on the weekend. After reading the blog posts this morning, I'm angry and speechless. But I think you know why.

    I guess she must have grown up in a bubble as a teen. Does she not understand the realities many teens face today? It's not all about perfect families, going to church every sunday, living the perfect existence. That's a tv show not real life.

    It saddens me that after reading the article, so many parents are going to think YA books are evil. But if it gets parents to read the books their kids read (yeah, but who has time for that), and opens up conversations, then that will be great.

    My 11 yo reads some of my YA books. But since most of mine are for girls 14 + (and they have romance in them), I won't let him read a lot of them(sexual content) or he doesn't want to read them because they're too girlie.

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  11. I think the author overlooked the fact that YA is not really a genre in and of itself but an overall target audience. And there are just as many 'genres' of YA than in the adult or children's market. Some are dark. Others are funny and meant to be taken less seriously. It isn't fair to generalise like she did. Sure there is dark YA- and rightly so for the reasons you mentioned. But if a teen is looking for a lighter read, they can totally find it. I personally don't like dramatic YA. I don't like reading about death, misery, suicide or mental illness and never have. Because even if they do exist- for me reading time is an escape- something to take my mind off the stress of the day. I don't want to spend that time in an even darker place. I never had trouble finding fun, light hearted YA and still don't and it's a shame that some people think that's all YA is anymore. Chick needs a reality check.

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  12. Wow, Sarah. You blew me away.
    100% agree with you. How could anyone not? We need to get your post trending up to the WSJ. THIS is fascinating reading.

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  13. Hi! You asked for a teen parent to weigh in. I'm a parent of two teens and an author (not YA). I recently took my 13 y/o to Barnes and Noble and took off while she perused the YA section. (I read Poe at 9 so I don't censor much of what she reads). She came back frustrated. Said all the books were "too dark" and left empty handed. Besr in mind, her best friend loves dark but my girl does not. She'd already read all of Meg Cabot and the others. I don't think balance here is a bad thing. We ended up going to the library and getting some suggestions for books that were not to be found on B&N shelves.

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  14. I saw the Twitter explosion and even joined in the #YAsaves rebuttal.

    I'm a parent of teens so I can, to some extent, understand that visceral need to protect kids from "darkness." But I'm a realist. I KNOW my kids are facing dark stuff every day - bullying, suicide, sex, drugs, theft, violence.

    Every.
    Day.

    As a parent, this TERRIFIES me but that doesn't mean I ignore it in the hopes it will all just go away. In fact, I believe that's the worst possible course of action a parent can take.

    The more something scares me, the more likely I am to talk about it with my sons, study it, look for ways to shed light on it so that it loses its power to seduce them and frighten me.

    The best place to start?

    Books.

    My youngest son and I read and reviewed THIRTEEN REASONS WHY by Jay Asher (the review is on Goodreads). The resulting discussion ASTOUNDED ME! The ways my son interpreted the book, its characters, and their actions was nothing short of insightful. And, that he CHANGED the ways he interacts with people as a result of reading it is testament to the true power of YA literature.

    Don't ban; read together.

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  15. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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  16. One word - tweet! (And you know I don't tweet.) This was an amazing article! When I was YA, I read adult books with zero perspective on my life as a teen because there were slim pickings for realistic YA on the shelf. I'm glad there's more choice for kids these days.

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  17. And by "article" I was refering to your blog post - not WSJ. Oops!

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  18. This is far and away the best response to this brouhaha I've read. Frankly, it's wasted on Blogspot. Your thoughtful refutation needs to appear in the Wall Street Journal itself or in the New York Times or something with a similar ability to reach an audience comparable to the original article's. For my part, I'll link it to everyone I can.

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  19. Frankly, I get offended when I read articles like WSJ. When I was a teen--I'm only a year and a half out, so it's still fresh!--I would always get so pissed when adults were like "Oh, that's too dark" or "That will give you nightmares." BULLSHIT. Sorry, but by the time I reached high school I'd heard and seen most everything. I always wanted to say, "COME ON, give teens some freakin' credit." They have minds of their own now, and in fact, BECAUSE we've grown up in this era where information is everywhere all the time, we have learned to be more selective and balanced when viewing or reading. Goodness. I might have to go write a post about this. Thanks for the post, Sarah. Wonderful, as always. :-)

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  20. GREAT response to the WSJ article. Here, here!

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  21. This was a great response, Sarah. You just put into words what I've been struggling to define, regarding YA books not glorifying the "darker" things their characters do. They show realistic outcomes, which I think produce the opposite effects of what those ultra skinny swimsuit models do.

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  22. As a person who believes in free speech, I viewed the article as one person's opinion. Although I may not totally agree with the argument in the article, the author still has a right to make it.

    In truth, the author made one point we shouldn't ignore. Teens are impressionable.

    My middle son fell prey to peer pressure earlier this year. Although I've taught him to take responsibility for the choices he makes, the fact remains that his friend was present every time he got in trouble. Sometimes people feed off each other. If Thelma never met Louise then, it is possible that they would have both lived normal lives, raised a couple of kids and retired in Boca. Instead, the influence they had on each other led them down a dark path.

    I think fictional characters can have a similar effect on teens (and this is what the author of the ya article was trying to say). IMHO, her argument fell apart when she failed to acknowledge that the world is a dangerous and dark place. Try as we may, parents can't shelter their children forever. At some point they are going to be confronted with peer pressure, drugs, mental illness, bullying etc. It is up to us as parents to prepare them to deal with these things.

    Censoring the books that address these realities will only set our teens up for failure. Parents should read the books our teens choose. Then we can open a dialogue and help them better understand the unpleasant little corners in their world.

    I guess what I'm trying to say here, is parental involvement is key to a teens success. If they read a book that immerses them in the ugly realities of the world, then it is the parent's duty to teach them to deal with them in a healthy manner.

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  23. I had a fascinating discussion yesterday with someone who came face-to-face with this type of attitude from a school. It wasn't YA lit, but the subject of teaching children (14-yr-olds) about the Holocaust, using true and horrifying information. A teacher got fired for exposing these teens to Elie Weisel's very dark book, Night, w/o fully informed consent of parents. My feeling is that parents have to do the work of reading what their kids read, and having thoughtful discussions with them about it. Sensationalism for its own sake is tiresome, to say the least, but the other side of the argument is you can't and should not hide dark truths. They are important.

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  24. Great response to WSJ and great comments. I love it how we are all getting passionate about books, rather than the Heat or the Mavs.

    I am a parent, and I find myself pushing reading on my 8th grader. He prefers funny, with some adventure thrown in. But I would be fine about him tackling some darker stuff and discussing it with me. Right now, I'd throw a fiesta for something more than a grunt and a groan masquerading as conversation. (Parents of 8th grade boys may know what I mean.)

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  25. Thank you, Sarah, for writing this. You expressed my sentiments exactly. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    I for one will not shy away from letting my kids read YA books of all kinds, and will read those books WITH them, and open up the discussion about the edgier subjects.

    Keeping kids in a mystical mist of "there's nothing bad out there!" is not the answer.

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  26. I asked my son what he thought about the article and he said "she obviously didn't talk to a teenager." He's 13 yo.

    He's not a "dark" reader at all. He said that he gets frustrated when authors specifically try to stay away from a topic, or try not to cuss, or try not to write a sex scene. He says it makes the book awkward and stupid - his words. He'd rather read something that "doesn't hold back" because at least it's interesting. He also wondered if the author of the article was confusing tension for dark writing.

    We have lists of books that work for his very finicky tastes. I also have an 11 yo and she always finds books she can't put down.

    This year in school for Lang Arts he read "The Book Thief," "Animal Farm," "The Absolutely True Story of a Part-time Indian" and "The Alchemist". Last year they read "The Ranger's Apprentice," and "Lord of the Rings." There is also a fantastic Sci-Fi series called the "Gallahad Series" by Dom Testa. This summer he plans to read "Ender's Game."

    Dark books, or good page-turners? I've read them all and I'd say page-turners.

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  27. I knew you'd make me feel better. :D Here's the other point I should have brought up: YA handles these situation specifically FOR teens. I didn't have YA when I grew up. But guess what? The adult books that I read were probably less careful, more sensationalized, and in many cases more brutal than the stuff out there today. Shying away from tough topics does a disservice not just to us as authors, but to the kids reaching for our books.

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  28. My mom is a children's librarian for a k-6 elementary school, and I've seen her struggle with the types of books to include in her library. On the one hand, she saw me begin to read VC Andrews and Stephen King while still in elementary school. And she NEVER told me that I couldn't read a book. In fact, she gave me To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 4th grade. (which I fell in love with, btw.) She knew what I could handle and monitored my reading appropriately.

    On the other hand, she knows that not all kids can handle more mature material. She's decided not to include series like Twilight or the Hunger Games in her library. Most 12 year olds are probably too young for those titles, though they are on the lower end of the YA designation. It's been interesting to discuss issues like this with her.

    I was totally outraged to see Sherman Alexie's work slammed in the WSJ article. Alexie writes so powerfully about the conditions of many Native Americans in this country, a marginalized group that is often overlooked. Some reservations are like third world countries - poor housing, inadequate utilities, terrible healthcare, rampant alcoholism, drugs, despair... and then, naturally, abuse. Native American teens have the highest suicide rate of any ethnicity in the country. How DARE Gurdon or any other journalist further silence this group by suggesting that Alexie's work is not appropriate for teenage readers? This is the reality that thousands of Indian teens are living with.

    And then, the article also suggested DIFFERENT books for 'young men' and 'young women'. Grrrr.

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  29. One of the other comments here used a very important word: marginalized. There's an incredible stigma in the U.S. against mental illness. Few people realize mental illness isn't a life sentence or a death sentence. Heaven forbid we acknowledge that good people -- good kids -- sometimes have problems handling the harsh realities of life. Instead, let's marginalize these problems and the suffering and the people behind them. Let's make it clear it's not normal to feel the way they do -- it's an unnatural depravity inflicted on them by a nefarious force from outside.

    And as to the comments on the WSJ article comparing YA books to the moral decay that supposedly destroyed the Roman Empire...as someone with degrees in both psychology and history, I say ARGH! Some adults need to step up their reading!

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  30. WSJ is owned by Rupert Murdoch who owns FOX News. They're just another pundit of the political TEA partiers like Michelle Bachman.

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  31. "To pretend these individuals don't exist is offensive." <---YESSSSSS!!!! Thank you for this post!

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  32. To build on Linda Grey's comment:

    When I was still in high school, we read Night and viewed graphic pictures from the Holocaust (and watched Schindler's List, too). I was 14, maybe 15 depending, no older than the kids we're talking about now. We talked about lynching, Jim Crow laws, the KKK, and the horrific atrocities of segregation. This was 10 years ago. We had no consent forms, and obviously the curriculum was approved by the school. I can't understand when we've decided we need to coddle our children and keep them in some ridiculous bubble of happy land, because when that bubble bursts, it's not gonna be pretty.

    I'm not saying to throw a child out on the street so they can experience prostitution, rape, violence and drug abuse first hand, but they need to understand that horrible things happen, maybe even to people they know. I've suffered from depression since childhood. I found solace in the darker tales because they SPOKE to me in a way happy light fluffy stories don't. And I was grateful for that. My life wasn't horrible by any means, but knowing that SOMEONE, real or not, knew how I felt helped me tremendously.

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  33. I'm sure you noticed, Sarah, but Janet Reid tweeted this. Good for you!

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  34. Agree with you 100%, Sarah. I don't think I have anything to add to your brilliance :)

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  35. Thank you SO much for this amazing response! I just tweeted the link. :)

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  36. I'm so glad to know that so many people are speaking their mind on this subject. I don't think any of should remain quiet. Lately YA has been getting hit with the 'too dark' comments and I have to say that at least us as a community are writing about real topics and also changing teens life. They're able to relate to characters that they never thought they'd be able to in books. They aren't perfect, they all have issues and us as writers are breaking molds and still allowing the teen to seek help if necessary.

    We're giving them an outlet when others just want to ignore. Way to speak your mind. I loved this post and I can see several others did as well.

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  37. Very well said. You have wonderfully articulated what a lot us have been thinking about in response to the article. There was an incredible outpouring of love and support in the YA community, it made me almost glad that the article surfaced at all. :)

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  38. I'm only a couple years out of high school and I still live at home, so I like to think I have a hybrid adult/teen view of on most subjects, and on this one I have a very teenage point-of-view. My mom never, ever censored any of my reading material growing up, never pre-read my books, never "guided" me through books, and I survived. In fact, I would have been outraged if she had forbidden me from reading something (and read it behind her back), and if she'd tried to sit me down and have a "discussion" about "difficult" subjects, I would have laughed and been totally awkward and embarrassed -- and angry. I was a very smart teenager, able to tell right from wrong, savvy and world-weary enough not to be shocked by anything. I would have been insulted had my mom tried to condescend to me and assume I needed help understanding things.

    I realize that my opinion makes me sound arrogant and stubborn, but this is how a lot of teenagers feel.

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  39. I appreciate your even tone and that you brought up the role of parents.

    I was shocked by the article and heartened by the many YA Saves stories. Your post further strengthens the position of all of us who believe in YA literature.

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  40. The likelihood that more than a small percentage of young people in this culture are MORE influenced by books than TV, music, or movies in this culture is almost laughable, but the idea that if a work shows a "bad outcome" it won't interest or entice the viewer of the work is also false. Research shows that it doesn't matter if the villian or the hero is smoking in a movie - repeated watching of any character smoking will increase the likelihood of cigarette smoking. Even suicide has been shown to be socially learnable ('contagious'), and suicide obviously never ends well for anyone. I'm sure you don't even believe your glib comment about the models and teenage girls - what psychological mechanism works the same on all people? That not all girls have eating disorders is hardly a refutation of the influence of media on behavior.

    It's obviously a problem when teenagers spend hours watching hip-hop "video hos," so why can't it be a problem if they spend time reading garbage? I love literature, but why can't we call a spade a spade? There's some crap out there.

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  41. Michael, you're correct that there is some research to show that how suicide is covered by the news media (specifically, if the method is covered and reported repeatedly) may result in increased attempts of similar types. And of course I would not refute the influence of media on behavior, which is why I acknowledge both that social learning theory is well-validated by decades of research and that the assertion that glamorization of dangerously thin models can have some affect on young women is not without merit. It's also why I stated that all kids have vulnerabilities as well as strengths, that some kids will be triggered by what others find redemptive, and that, for younger teens, parents play an essential role. I apologize if that sounded glib to you. However, equating the books we're discussing with "video hos" and calling them "garbage" makes me wonder if you've actually read any of them.

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  42. Hi, as a teen who loves to read all kinds of YA books, reading the article was a shock. It had never occured to me that reading something that shows a traumatic event *could* cause me to repeat that event..

    I agree with what you've said completely though. Not every book is for every person. While for me, while I don't think I'm desensitized, I'm able to read books that cover very traumatic things and come out feeling more empathy and compassion for people with those problems - instead of wanting to do them myself, or becoming depressed by it. But I know a lot of people my age, and older (such as my mom) who can't stand to read books like that because it physically hurts them.

    Your suggestion of the parents being involved in reading with the kid/teen is a good one. I know my parents and I have had our arguments over what I read at times, and I think that it would have helped the situation if we'd read the book together.

    Basically, my stand on that article is that what the author of the article stated just plain confused me. I barely understood a thing she said, most of it sounded like absolute rambling. It also made me wonder if they'd ever read any of those books or taken them only at face value.

    While I know there are books out there that I would never be able to stomach because I honestly don't think that they're good books, (my opinion only, of course) for the most part what YA authors are doing is making a difference. It's inspiring for me that they are able to write about some of the darkest moments of a teen's life and create something beautiful out of it. Something that inspires empathy, and it also inspires me to hope to one day be able to write just as well about similar topics.

    I apologize for the longness of my post, but I feel quite passionate on the subject.

    -JRMann

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  43. i didn't know that i could respect you or matt anymore, but i do.
    well put and amen to everything here.
    i'm just so sick of the prejudice and stigma people attatch to mental illness. ugh. i love what you said about empathy. sarah! :) love ya girl!

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  44. Unfortunately, I'm constantly trying to find something, anything, that my 12 year old will read. He got interested in Diary Of A Whimpy kid for little bit, and his latest 10 minute obsession was Roland Smith's Cryptid Hunters.

    No, my battle is with video games. How "mature" is too mature. I only know one way of gauging my effectiveness as a parent, and that's through him. Growing up in a household of teenagers, my poor bug has had to mature too quickly. So he plays the violent video games like Halo and Black Ops.

    I worried about his exposure to violence, and especially his obsession with guns and ammo. I asked my ex (his dad) to take him out shooting at targets so he could know how different a real gun was from the psuedo world he practically lives in. He declined the experience, stating that real guns shoot real people and he didn't think he need that skill in real life.

    Turns out he knows everything he does in the game world has no connection to his real life. Bravo for him. I'd like to think his outlook is b/c I talk with him constantly about things that interest him. Yeah, I've banned him from games due to content (GTA, True Crime); he doesn't always know what's best for him.

    I'm pleased to see so many young people commenting on your post. They are the ones who's voice needs to be heard on this subject.

    ........dhole

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  45. I love your perspective on this issue. Parents and adults in denial about what teens are facing. Andrea Cremer wrote an excellent post on this too, though I can't find the link right now.

    Any time my children had a problem or I had to explain something difficult to them, I've used books to help. Just because my son will be a teen soon, doesn't mean I'm going to stop letting books help because the content gets grittier.

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  46. I read the WSJ article when it first appeared, and I had a very different reaction to it - I didn't see it as a call for censorship or alarm at all, but more a reflection of my own feelings at the change in what's on the bookstore shelves over the past few years.

    I love the fun, gentler stuff, it's what I've always read, it's what I'm trying to write. I don't mind that the teen problem or romance books exist, they're just not my cup of tea. (I always read in the adult section for anything involving pain and reality as a teen, and still do, preferably non-fiction, but that's me. ^_^)

    I never stopped reading YA, even as an adult - it was the place I could always find fun, but very well written books (much better written than adult books), wonderful authors like Diana Wynne Jones or Lloyd Alexander. A lot of adults do - the Harry Potter books got all ages reading YA. But these days, all I see are rows and rows of books with pensive girl's faces on the covers, and I have to hunt to find anything I want to read. I've heard booksellers say boys won't go near the YA section, they go straight from MG to adult books, because there's nothing in YA for them.

    If you don't like the kind of books I like, that's fine. There's room for everyone. Perhaps all we need is some further categorization in the YA section, so that people can find what they want. ^_^

    Laurie

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  47. I'm a parent of three girls, all of whom are technically too young to be a part of this mess . . . but my nine-year-old almost-done-with-third-grader has been working a grade ahead of herself for two years (three, in some subjects) now. She reads at roughly a ninth grade level, vocabulary and syntax-wise, and can't stand the cotton candy pink stuff that's thrust at her (TRY THIS IF YOU'RE 8-12 AND FEMALE) so much of the time in the book stores (though she does love Percy Jackson, Harry Potter, etc.)

    I, personally, love YA to the point that I do reviews for Penguin Teen, and allow her to read a lot of it - the ones without 'the yucky, sexy stuff' as she calls it, or the overt and flamboyant self-harm or drug use (not because I think it should be cut out of literature, but because she's nine). In some ways (a lot of ways, really) I'd rather she read it than so much of the MG stuff that encourages cliques and elitism (not that there isn't plenty of YA that does that too) and mouthing back to parents and the like. And really, given that so many classics are deemed 'dangerous' now (Tom Saywer and Huck Finn, as the most obvious example), people like Ms. Gurdon (sensationalists all, even if they are entitled to their own opinions!) make my life more difficult when people look at what she's reading and pass judgment.

    At any rate, all that is a long winded and parenthetical way to say yes, for gods' sake, READ WITH YOUR CHILDREN. Talk to them. Play video games and listen to music with them, too! "The books are too dark, make them write about sunshine and rainbows or at the very least, THINK OF THE CHILDREN," is not an answer to anything.

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  48. Thank you for this insightful and educated response. It was really interesting to read your perspective as a psychologist. I agree with everything you've said.

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  49. On one hand, I agree with everything you've said here, especially that it's important for teens (and everyone else) to empathize with people who have different problems than themselves and know that there are people who have the same problems they have (that they're not alone).
    One the other hand, I agree with CreepyQGirl in that I read wanting something that's lighter than real life. I don't want to read stuff that's gritty and realisticly dark. There was actually some very gritty books I was supposed to read in high school for a summer reading program and I refused to read some of them. I don't think those books are bad or should be banned, but I also really don't think people should be required to read them.
    This is probably why I've always preferred to read (and write) middle grade fantasy.

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