March 11, 2011 | By: Tracy

Why Treat Teen Girls Differently?

There's been much debate about the topic of sex in young adult novels. How much is too much? Should there be any mention of it at all? Etc, etc.

I have my own feelings on the subject, but that isn't the point of this post.

However, it got me to thinking of a somewhat mentioned concept that, perhaps, we should be treating teenage females differently than adults with their fiction content.

By this, I mean, there's a notion that young adult stories should be mindful of setting a "good example" for young women. And I kinda think that's crap.

Don't get me wrong. I have no interest in writing (or reading) YA stories that completely debase or distort a young woman's sense of self worth, or glorify things that have no business being glorified . . . but at the same time, why the reluctance to believe teen girls can distinguish the difference between fiction and real life?

Is it really setting such unrealistic expectations for them to read a story about a girl who gives her virginity to a boy who genuinely loves her, with the hope of Happily Ever After? Considering so many are the product of divorced/single parents, it's a good chance they understand odds of finding forever love with their high school sweetheart are extremely slim.

The same way I realize there just aren't that many straight, drop-dead gorgeous, ex-military playboys who are willing to cease their womanizing ways to settle down and raise a family with me. . . yet, I like reading those stories anyway.

Maybe, I don't have quite the same protective streak because I'm not a mom. It just seems I remember shaping more of my life decisions and expectations, back then, based on the experiences I learned through my real life friends. So I tend to think the content of stories doesn't matter quite as much as some might think.

Since fiction is nothing if not subjective, I'm curious to hear where you all stand. Whether you're a YA writer. A parent of a teenager. Or both.

14 witty remarks:

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Love the comparison with the ex-military playboys. You mean that type doesn't exist. Darn it!

I have no problems with sex in YA as long as it's done for the right reasons. To be on the bestseller list is not that reason.

The main thing is it should be realistic to what teenage girls will face. Not all real life romance stories end with happily ever after. Books should reflect this. As in real life, there should be consequences to the act.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I'm living the ex-military life! Oh yes, that dream does come true. I set out on a mission from the time I saw Top Gun and was determined I would marry a man in the military and he would be amaaaazing. And he is all and more. The deployments sucked. So...they are out there :)

I think as long as it's realistic to the plot and not just a random event to appear realistic then it's okay. I have no problem with sex in a YA novel as long as it fits the plot and is handled well (use protection and so forth). Thankfully, I deal with very little romance. My female MC kills (justifiably of course), condoms are the least of my concern in this MS.

Kari Marie said...

Great topic and one I've been wondering about myself these days.

In my opinion (childless as it is) I think you have a better chance of a teen reading your book if it is realistic. Kids have sex, some drink, and some smoke. We may not like it, but they do it anyway. It's part of their job description (to test their boundaries). Those actions have consequences and they should be included as well.

Brad Jaeger said...

^ Ugh. Books which allow sex, drugs and rock and roll only to quantify the message with a "look how badly it messed their life up" suck.

Plenty of people have a great deal of sex, drugs and rock and roll in their teens and grow up to be quite successful and emotionally well balanced.

Drinking, sex and drugs are just lifestyle choices, and any of them not taken to excess is just fine.

Brad Jaeger said...

As for me, I rarely drank, did few drugs, but had a great deal of sex. I assure you, it wasn't to test boundaries. It was because it was fun :p

Alyssa Fox said...

This is a good topic and gets me to think. I never really thought of it this way at all. I have two girls who are closing in on being teens. Thanks for a great post!

Melissa said...

Well... my first novel is kinda PG-13 but the new idea I have is....a lot more like my own highschool experience. With parties and sex and that kind of thing. I haven't written it yet but I know I won't be writing anything in excess. But these things are out there and kids are doing it and pretending it isn't...does more harm then good.

Sophia Richardson said...

Sex, as with anything else, should have a reason for being in the book. As long as it fits with the characterisation and plot to include it, include it. Or fade to black. Or allude to it. But to pretend that teenagers don't wonder about, or have, sex is fairly unrealistic for most teens.
- Sophia.

Meredith said...

I agree! Teen girls can tell the difference between fiction and real life. As long as sex makes sense for your story and your characters, I think it should be included.

LTM said...

Right--as most everyone's saying, writers should write the story they have to tell, whether it involves sex or not. And I agree that showing consequences and outcomes is important. At the same time, I also don't believe teens are out there basing their life choices on the fictional stories they read. Hopefully there are some good lessons to be learned, but I know I was able to tell the difference in pure entertainment and real life. Good stuff, Tracy~ :o) <3

Katie said...

Being a teacher of middle grade students, this is a topic that I walk the line with. The kids I teach are 12/13. But the thing is that some of the read these books or even watch fictional TV shows and believe that these things COULD actually happen. Now, at some point they are going to have to realize that there's a difference between reality and fiction. But I think sometimes they are so naive that they believe what happens in these stories is the complete truth. It's such a hard thing. Not all kids are ready for books that have sexual storylines because they can't distinguish that difference of fiction/reality. But there are some kids who can see that fiction is just that, fiction.

It's so difficult. This is a topic that needs to be more talked about especially where parents are concerned!

Great post!

E.J. Wesley said...

Hey Tracy,

The real reason I stopped by was to tell you thank you for your thoughtful comment on my 'Author Vs Author' post. After reading your post, I'm going to have to stick around and put in my $2 (inflation).

From the author's perspective, I think there has been a lot of talk about readers not being intelligent enough, mature enough, etc. to handle or determine the quality of XYZ type of story. Frankly, I think it's BS. You cannot write to protect a reader. You must write to tell a story; the character's story. Furthermore, there is so much variance in reader maturity for YA content, that I'm not sure it would do much good. Basically, I'd say once the story is finished, let agents, editors, etc. sort out what's fit and what's not, and consider their recommendations.

From the reader perspective, I fall in line with Katie (above). It gets incredibly hard to judge content appropriateness because it is such a relative experience. There are mature 12 year olds, and immature 18 year olds. Some young people are ready to examine sex (as a topic) when they are 10 or 11, others not until they hit college.

People get cranky when you mention having ratings on books, but it's for precisely this reason that I think we need them. Authors shouldn't have to dwell on the idea that an unprepared 15 year old might latch onto something they've written and take it out of context. That's something for parents and people who have direct involvement in the reader's life to examine. Giving educators and parents a standardized way of matching readers with content would be extremely helpful to them.

Are topics like sex, drugs, etc. harmless life experiences? Sometimes, but not always. There's always a consequence for choices, some good, and some bad. I think examining both sides is OK in YA.


Regina said...

I don't mind sex in YA as long as it is not overly pornographic. This is where I kind of think that some people want to confuse MG and YA because all the girls want to read all the new YA that is coming out but are not always old enough or mature enough to handle the content. Parents must remember that YA age range is controversial. I have seen it vary from ages 12-20. Those are some significant stretches there.

So depending on the writer, they could be writing for the 18-20 year old crowd for a book and get a little (excuse the expression) loose in their descriptions of sex compared to someone who is writing for the age range of 12-15. Maturity of the reader plays a part in this as well.

Adina West said...

Hi, I'm a mother (though not of a teenager) and a reader of YA more than a writer.

I think the key thing for me is that the messages which come out YA fiction should preferably be positive ones, even if the scenarios depicted in the novel itself are gritty, realistic, and even heartbreaking. So by all means, difficult issues can be dealt with - but hopefully the characters 'grow' from their experiences and have (or find) the strength to deal with and accept and even learn from what has happened to them.

Hope that makes sense!

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