Monday, May 28, 2012

Actual Teens Talk Sex, Language, and Banned Books

Yes, this is the forbidden subject...the one everyone wanted to blog about a few years ago only to be hounded and eaten alive by trolls, dragons, abstinence awareness speakers, nuns, Ke$ha fan club presidents, the Target check out dude in aisle four, and other even scarier internet creatures. 

And yes, I still see a few posts pop up now and again, for example, this one recently re-posted from 2010. Reading this article a few days ago inspired me, not to stand on my soap box and give my own opinions, but to ask the Perfect 10, my teen panel, what they think on the subject. It is technically their books being discussed when the grown-ups engage in heated debates on this topic. 
 
I know that it seems backwards to ask the kids what they think about sex and language in books because they're teens, they love to break rules and get wild, right? Of course they are going to want all the sex, drugs, bad words, and bad choices us authors can possibly cram into one novel, right? They can't possibly make intelligent choices regarding their own potential moral corruption, can they?


What Moral Corruption by Book Actually looks lik
It isn't my place to decide whether each individual pre-teen and teen is capable of determining which books are appropriate for them to read, but I do think it's important that they at least be allowed to voice their opinoin somewhere. And to be honest, I was immensely curious to hear what they had to say on the subject.
     
 
So, no, I'm not going to bite the bullet that will inevitably come at me faster than the speed of light should I tell you what I think about this topic, but it's possible I've found more subliminal ways to insert my personal feelings into this post. Keep in mind, I have a tendency to use sarcasm.

Before we go any farther,you should know that the Perfect 10 is an incredibly diverse group of young people. And by diverse, I mean in nearly every way possible-age, sex, race, religious beliefs, country of residents...

On to the Q&A with a few Perfect 10 members....

What are your opinions regarding content in YA fiction such as sex-whether just in reference or explicit description-and language?


 "I think it is ok to reference sex in YA novels because if you're being true to characters then maybe your characters are having sex. I don't want explicit description. Like in the scene [in Tempest] when Holly and Jackson were having sex, I don't think that was explicit details. I think that was perfect. It was like you knew they were doing it, but you didn't give too much details." --Hannah, 15, Ohio

"Ok, yes maybe some adults don't want their children reading about language and sex, but they are going to learn eventually and they already know most of it. I think YA books especially require it, you're writing for teenagers, teenagers who experience similar things, who want to relate to their characters. Being 18, I find it hard to get a good YA novel that is enough like real life that I started to read adult books a few years ago. Rachel Vincent's, Shifter series was a good example of fantasy and true to life. Yes there is sex, though only one scene, and language but nothing over done. I think sex and language (and even religion) is perfectly fine for a YA book as long as it is natural and not forced or over done. I think it depends on the type of book and the story and characters. At the end of the day it all comes down to the reader." --Tasha, 18, Northern Ireland
"I'm nineteen and my thoughts are cussing and sex are okay in YA. It's realistic. And I think some adults are trying to protect children/teens the wrong way--it doesn't matter what they read, but they hear/say cuss words at school, with friends, whenever they're not around their parents. And I know some people like to believe that teenagers aren't cussing, aren't having premarital sex, aren't doing drugs/drinking/whatever, but it's happening and it should be portrayed in books. It's portrayed in movies, in video games, in real life, etc." --Ashelynn, 19, Wyoming 
"In regard to profanity or sexual content, I have no qualms as long as it holds some purpose in a particular scene. Accuracy is key in YA, yes? It is only fair then to create characters who truly relate to real teens. If encountering strong language or engaging in sexual activity is something that real teens do, how could it be wrong for a fictional character? In my several years of experience reading YA, I've never come across overtly sexual situations or instances of too much profanity, so I think publishers are fairly skilled in keeping YA novels as appropriate (for lack of a better word) as possible for the adolescent age group. Of course, I have grown and my mindset has changed since the time I first started reading YA. As expected, I'm more comfortable reading some of the more racy scenes than I used to be."--Zareen, 17, California
"My teacher has recommended books like Atonement by Ian McEwan to me in the past, which contains sex. I read Looking for Alaska when I was nine, which had an oral sex scene. Was Alaska appropriate for me at the time? No, absolutely not, but I learned to avoid YA until I was older.  We learn from experience, and I never really understood (the stuff that happened in Looking For Alaska) until later anyway."--Nicole, 13, Australia
 



How do you feel about adults constantly debating the content issue and making decisions about what you should or shouldn't be able to read, what your school libraries may or may not carry?
"When it comes to what we should or shouldn't read I think parents get ridiculously strict, it's not a big deal if that [sex,language] is in a book because it is just a book."--Hannah, 15, Ohio

"I could write a book on my views on this. In the UK they want to put age restrictions so that you will need ID to prove you are a certain age for books. This really annoyed me and will if they bring it into effect as a lot of books I love are adult fantasy and I won't be able to get them because the age will be 21."--Tasha, 18, Northern Ireland

"Would I be bothered by censorship of certain books? Yes. Do I understand the support for such a system? Also yes. Basically, it's a complicated issue. I've never really followed the age guidelines on books. I picked up my first YA book before my teen years. I also know of others who have done the same thing simply because we were kids who wanted more to read. Though I'd be bothered if my parents, teachers, etc. tried to keep me from reading books above my level, I would recommend monitoring what a child or teen reads. Not every kid is the same; we don't mature at the same rate or go through the same specific experiences. It is ultimately up to a parent/guardian to decide whether any certain form of entertainment is appropriate for their son or daughter, whether it be books, movies, music, etc."--Zareen, 17, California

"I think there's a difference between 'sheltering' a child from the ugly side of things--drugs, sex, etc., and showing them age-appropriate content. And while I can certainly see why adults would want to remove or censor explicit content from books, the reality is that their teenagers, like it or not, are going to read or hear about this sort of thing sooner or later, regardless of whether permission is given. Correct me if I'm wrong, but can't someone buy a book like Fifty Shades from a bookstore or Amazon? Where are we going to draw the line with book censoring? Will it only apply to YA? Can't a teenager pick up an adult book just as easily? While I think there is a baseline for how much sex/language an author will even put into a book for teenagers, each person is different, and each parent has different tolerance levels for content like this in stories. I don't think YA books with sex should be banned, but if parents think it's inappropriate, it is *their* responsibility to censor THEIR children's reading material, and not to limit others from reading about things that happen in the real world to real people."--Nicole, 13, Australia


So, there you have it. A little food for thought for those of you who like to think. Personally, even though I've worked with these kids for a few months and already think highly of them, this proved to me how much more mature and intelligent teens can be than we realize. 



I've heard every side of this debate from those who believe in 'keepin it real' to those who are convinced publishers add more sex and language just to get teens to buy a certain book. While I can't speak for every instance of this last allegation, I will say that it's possible authors have been asked to add more of this R-rated content, not as a marketing tool, but because the stakes needed to be raised for a main character or for the plot of the novel. For example, which is a heavier issue for a teen character to encounter: 1) deciding to kiss a boy/girl or 2) deciding to go all the way with a boy/girl? Which one has larger consequences and will most likely give the reader a harder slap of reality?

Reality? Did you say reality? Yes...that's right. Deciding whether to have sex or not is very much a part of nearly every teenager's reality. That doesn't mean YA authors should have the freedom to write stories about teens who lie, cheat, steal, get rich from said lying, cheating, stealing and live happily ever after, but honestly, give me the name of a YA book where that happens? Or anything remotely close to that?      

Okay, so here's the fun part. I'm going to list below some quotes from random articles/blog posts on this subject. If you'd like to join this discussion, maybe start by saying whether you agree of disagree with the statements.

1) "Researchers found that when profanity was used [in teen fiction], the characters were most likely to be young, rich, attractive and of high social status. A lot of research has shown that viewers tend to imitate the characters with desirable characteristics. If adolescents are reading about these characters who are popular and rich — which are desirable characteristics for them — they are likely to imitate their behavior.”
2)  "Books offer one of the few spaces in which teens can encounter the hard edges that mark true coming-of-age without judgment. For those teens whose lives have already been affected by drugs, violence, suicide, or any number of traumatic experiences – that children as well as adults struggle with – books can provide comfort, healing, or simply the realization that one isn’t alone."
 3) "Kids at this age are impressionable. Sometimes it's a monkey see, monkey do."

Thanks again to the Perfect 10 members who so graciously and candidly contributed to the content of this blog post! And again, I think I can speak for them as well as myself when I say that we would LOVE to hear what you think!

**Disclaimer--the pictures in this post are only there to display the entire realm of this eight-sided debate.

12 comments:

  1. Great post! I think the teens have certainly spoken! It doesn't surprise me. I think as a teen I would have felt the same way.

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    1. thank you! I wasn't surprised by the direction they all seemed to sway in, but I was surprised by the well thought out logic and reasoning they gave to back up their opinions. lol...I'm not sure I was that well-spoken at their ages.

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  2. You have a fabulous blog! I’m an author and illustrator and I made some awards to give fellow bloggers whose sites I enjoy. I want to award you with one of my homemade awards: Powerful Woman Writer Award. There are no pass along requirements. This is just to reward you for all the hard work you do!

    Go to http://astorybookworld.blogspot.com/p/awards.html and pick up your award.
    ~Deirdra

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  3. Love their answers. : ) And honestly, the voraciously reading teens are not the ones we should be worrying about. In general, those kids tend to be more thoughtful, intelligent, and aware of the heaviness of decisions regarding sex and such (because books rarely paint those things lightly or consequence free). Plus they get to explore those things in a safe fictional environment.

    I'd love to see a study on behavior of teens who read vs. teens who don't pick up a book unless forced. My guess would be that the propensity for reckless behavior is way higher in that non-reading group. Just sayin'. :)

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    1. I agree with you Roni! What about the kids who aren't reading?!

      I was reading adult books (Danielle Steel & Clan of the Cave Bear) at age 13, I skipped passed the YA genre and went right into the adult content. I didn't started reading YA until I was 17ish. My mom really didn't care she was just happy I was finally reading since I really didn't like reading as a kid.

      I personally don't agree nor like censorship for books, there is always a lesson to be learned in books, can we say that much for those stupid tv shows that kids are watching?

      Some people need to get their heads out of their a** and realize that if kids want to learn about sex, drugs and all those bad things they are going to learn about it. I had a friend that was home schooled and occasionally home schoolers would get together and have a few classes together to socialize and she saw kids having sex in the halls and this was around age 13. Banning/monitoring books will just make things worse. People want to do what they aren't allowed to do.

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    2. Roni, I would so love to see those stats as well! Someone needs to do this project!

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  4. I'm going to stick with bollywood...... They tell hard, painful stories, without showing sex.... And the culture has kama sutra. Our excuses for showing it are pretty silly, I think.

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  5. First-I have a 13 yr old and a 15 yr old, both girls.

    Second-Like Kristina I was reading books like Clan of the Cave Bear and The Sphere and skipped YA completely. (At the time books like Sister Light/Sister Dark and White Anya were considered Adult, and I've recently seen them in YA, *Shrug* which I don't really agree with, but that's a different topic)
    Anyway. My parents really never looked at what I was reading. I have only recently begun reading YA because of my kids.


    Should I have read certain adult fair when I was younger? Probably not. Some of the books I read had scenes that would make Playboy easy if they had added pics. And no one would hand a porno to a kid right?
    I know that I wouldn't let my kids read certain books when they were little because they were too graphic. First of all they didn't really understand what sex was and second I wouldn't have let them watch porn either. It's not appropriate.

    But since I knew what I read as a pre-teen/teenager I knew that at some point my children would get their hands on books of a more graphic nature.
    (I know my kids have read books with sex scenes in them. Look at the twilight series for example, no it isn't horribly grapic, but it's still there).
    It made me uncomfortable at first. I don't want my kids to think it's ok to have sex without fully realizing all the ramifications. (that's the biggie for me, sorry but explaining to a child why they shouldn't do drugs or steal or curse are easy compared to sex. Just my opinion) I'm not stupid though, I do realize that teens have sex. (I was once one myself, though my oldest doesn't believe me.lol)

    Although I felt uncomfortable, I realized that this was an opportunity for me to discuss what my kids had read. My youngest was basically like whatever. She really didn't even care. My oldest however thinks it's all terribly romantic, yadda,yadda,yadda. And it gave me an opportunity to see how she's looking at the world, and let her talk to me and explain to her that the world in books, even non-fantasy regular old non-fiction books, isn't the actual world. That somethings aren't always as they are portrayed.

    I don't think that kids should be handed pornos. But I don't think that just because a story has sex in it, that it is a porno. (Does that make sense?) I also think that parents should be aware of what their children are reading and communicate with them about what they read.

    As a parent I don't think that books should be edited or banned, but I do think that they should be clearly marked as to their genre and age appropriateness. Maybe even have a site that lets parents see what the content of a book is. No not read it for free, but say there are sex scenes, or drugs, or suicide.
    There is a good example of a book that is YA that I don't know if I'd let my daughters read if only for one scene that has forced and weird sex in it. I asked the author and he classified his book as horror and that when it came out readers automatically put it in the YA arena.
    Is it YA? In my opinion one scene makes it upper YA not for kids 13 or below. Are 13 or below reading it? Yup. Do their parents know the scene is there? Probably not.

    Sorry I know I'm rambling. I think though that most parents want things edited out because they don't want to worry about what their kids are reading. But at the same time they don't want to have to read it themselves to see what the kids are reading. They are being lazy. Sorry. I'm a parent and I have to say they are being lazy,lazy,lazy. If they don't want their kids to read something bad and they don't want to get ink on their hands reading the book itself, then they shouldn't let them read books at all.

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    1. Your answer is so awesome, I don't even think any of us have to worry about your kids and what they're reading, you so have it covered :)

      and what a good point about a book with slightly more mature content being an opportunity for parents to communicate with teens. That in itself is quite the miracle sometimes.

      I wonder if the perfect 10 is rolling their eyes because we're trying to get their parents to talk to them about book content...lol. They are a smart group. They probably have had many talks with the 'rents.

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    2. Great experience thnaks for sharing.


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