Sunday, June 5, 2011

This WSJ Thing

So, this WSJ thing. I don't want to try to recap the article, so you can read it here if you would like. To be perfectly honest, it didn't make me angry in the way that it made some people angry. What it did is make me heave a huge sigh.

The reason it didn't make me angry is that I feel like I understand the situations of the two people involved in the article-- that is, the woman described in the beginning and the article's author. You see, I had the privilege of growing up at a good pace. My life was not perfect and I learned some things that I wish I hadn't had to learn, but they weren't specific to my childlike innocence as it is typically understood, so let's set them aside for the time being. My mother was and is fantastic. She worked hard for me and my siblings and still found the time to be involved and attentive and understanding. She protected me and my self-esteem and my mental stability.

Now, parents can't protect you from everything, but because I was a huge nerd I also fell in with the more academically-minded kids at my school, and they also didn't lead me into dark places. I also come from a comfortable background in a safe suburb. Lucky me.

No, seriously. Lucky me, because I got to grow up safe, but that is not true of everyone. In fact, it's not true of most people I know. Because even amid the comfortable backgrounds in my safe suburb, there were teenagers living in what one of my current friends calls "suburban hell." Everything looks great on the outside. On the inside there's violence and alcoholism and neglect and emotional abuse and no one knows about it, because they've got their dog and their lawn and their spot on the PTA, or what have you.

Anyway, back to the issue at hand: I was an intensely sensitive teenager. I was adversely affected by disturbing things I read or watched on TV. After accidentally seeing the episode of 90210 where Kelly gets sexually assaulted, I had nightmares and fits of intense fear for a long time. I also read this book in which a girl gets kidnapped and writes her memoirs from the basement where she's kept on a typewriter, and cried, and had trouble sleeping. I still get upset when I remember it. And honestly, I didn't need to be exposed to those things. I knew that bad things happened-- terrible things. But there's a difference between being aware of the world and having images burned into your brain that make you panic and have nightmares.

I also didn't like to read books with sex in them. I knew I wasn't ready for them, the same way I knew I wasn't ready for all the kissing the other kids were doing in middle school. It's fortunate that I was so aware of my own readiness. Some kids aren't. Sometimes parents need to protect their sensitive children for just a little while longer than the other kids. I think that's okay, and it doesn't necessarily mean that you are harming your child by sheltering them.

So yes, I understand that some parents are shocked by what they see in the YA section, and I understand they don't want their kids to read these books, but I can't help but think those parents need to be more shocked by the world.

They should understand that their kids are in many ways the exception, not the rule, and be grateful that their children don't really really need those "shocking" books to exist. Because while I was going home to a mom who still cooked us dinner even after a hard day at work, a lot of kids were going home to suburban hell. I grew up at a good pace. Not everyone does, and those kids sometimes need the dark books to get through tomorrow and the next day.

That's not to say that kids with a happy, stable home life shouldn't read the dark books, either. I'm only talking about need, here. My major problem with the WSJ article is that it makes general something that should be specific. You want to say, I want to protect my children from this kind of content? Then I say, I am happy for your kids, that they have a parent who is that worried about them. But when you say, these books are garbage and they're damaging the minds of children? I say, the world is damaging the minds of children. Be more shocked by the world than by the books.

And as for going into a bookstore and not finding a book suitable for your 13-year-old...maybe you should do some research before you go in? And I'm being serious here. There are a bunch of great blogs that will tell you the content of books. Reading Teen is one of them, and I've seen others, and I love what they do because they make YA books feel safe to protective parents. There are plenty of YA books that celebrate joy and beauty. Now, I would argue that many of them are also the "dark" books to which the article refers, and that saying they aren't suggests a pretty inattentive reader...but that's neither here nor there. I'm not trying to bicker with the careful parents. I'm just saying: do some research and you'll be surprised what you find.

So, that's what I'm going to say about it.


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