Teen Culture and YA Books

At a rcent children’s writng conference, I did several critiques. I noticed
that while many published children’s books have characters that curse and have
sex and know people who engage in destructive behavior, many unpublished manuscripts have naive characters
that look like they stepped out of the 1960s.

What Are
Teens Like Today?

It’s not enough to give characters computers and video
games. Children today look and sound different from children of the past. They
are street wise. They see sex and violence on the TV every night. They’ve
experienced the pain of divorce either in their immediate family or their
extended families. They have gay friends and relatives. They don’t have the
luxury of being naive.

I’ve long said that teens today want the same things
that teens have always wanted: They want to love and be loved. They are sure
they can do better than their hypocritical parents did, they’re idealistic.

But today’s teens are also different from teens of the past. For one thing, the
causes they champion are different. What kids consider to be unjust today is
different. Today, the majority of young people in the world see pollution and bullying as
terrible sins and they see homosexuality and abortion as good things.

What Kind of World Do They Live In?

Abortion is acceptable even during and after birth
Assisted suicide is legal and/or widely accepted
Homosexuals and transgendered people are considered normal
Alcoholism is seen as a disease
Creationism is taught as fairy tale, while evolution
is taught as proven fact
Teachers cheat by changing test scores
Teachers have affairs with students
Gunmen, or students, go on shooting rampages
Bombers blow up building and buses full of
Communication is immediate—no time to think
before you speak
Movies are available on the phones kids have in
their pockets
Video game addiction is a concern for their
Teens are expected to be sexually active
Porn is available from a very young age
Billboards and the TV shows are full of sexual

I’m not remarking on the rightness or wrongness of any of
the things above. I’m not arguing that evolution is an unproven theory or that
alcoholism is more sin than disease. I have my opinions on these things but
they aren’t what this post is about.

This post is about the shift in worldviews that has occurred
in the last three to five decades.

When I was a child all sex was kept in the closet,
regardless of whether it was heterosexual or homosexual in nature. Even married
folks, like Rob and Laura Petrie, had twin beds on TV.

True story: When I was eight or nine there was an ultra brite toothpaste
in which a pretty young woman blew a kiss at a handsome young
man. Then a woman sang, “Ultra brite gives your mouth sex appeal.” I asked my
dad what “sex appeal” meant and he said, “It’s a dirty word.” That same man, once
a conservative, Bible-believing minister, went on to speak out in favor of
homosexual rights. He came to believe the Old Testament and most of Paul’s epistles
were bogus.

This is how much some people’s views changed in three short

How Does This Shift Affect YA Books?

More and more we see kick-ass heroines and heroes out for
revenge. We see assassin heroes—loveable hit men and wise-guys. We empathize
with killers. No one wanted Katniss to lay down her life—to refuse to fight and
kill. We believed she had to kill. She had no choice. Well…yeah, she did have a
choice. She could have died instead, which would have been seen as the truly
heroic thing, once upon a time.

Today we live in a world with more than fifty shades of gray. Everything
is a shade of gray. No black and white. No absolutes. The god whom the people of the world believe in, is a god who just wants everyone to have a good time.

So how do we engage children and teens today?  Can we give them a Katniss
who leads a revolution without killing innocents? Can we give them street-smart
characters that do the right thing? What do you think?
 photo credit: Shavar Ross via photopin cc
The ABC couplet contest brought in several stellar entries. It had to go a tie-breaking judge. The final decision was a hard one but in the end…
Marti Pieper,
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Sally Apokedak is an associate agent with the Leslie H. Stobbe Literary Agency. She’s in the process of building a dynamite list of authors. She is also active in the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Christian Fiction Writers, and Toastmasters International.