Friday, October 3, 2014

Why I Love Teens (and the books we write for them)

So, teens. They get a bad rap. They're viewed as irresponsible, impulsive, messes of hormones, naive, and irreverent. But come on, don't you ever wish you could be any of those things sometimes? I do. (Except for maybe the mess of hormones.)

When I interact with teens, I see none of those things as deterrents. I see them as invitations. And I see a whole mix of other attributes that I find supremely engaging. Teens think big thoughts. I mean big. Change the world big. During adulthood, we tend to lose sight of those big dreams and ideas as we juggle the everyday survival of our families and livelihoods. I love hanging around with teens as they explore what possibilities their lives hold. As they deal with all the fear and anguish they've experienced in life and try to make sense of it. As they stand on the threshold of adulthood, not sure they really want to go there. 

Teens have big troubles. Okay, so we know maybe some of those troubles aren't as big as they seem to teens, but in their minds, everything is huge and life changing. Every subtle rejection hurts like a stab to the heart. Every joy is declared epic. Their entire future hangs in the balance with every decision they make. 

This is the stuff that makes for great conflict in fiction. That's one reason I write for teens. But more than that, I write for them because I want them to know their joys, pain, fears, anguish are shared by others and that they have the ability to handle these life experiences. I want to reassure them that they are okay, or they will be okay. That life hurts, but relationships with good people are healing and make life worth the living. That there is a way through this maze. I want them to see that whatever is huge at the moment is worth living through, and that whatever hurts the most will forge them into someone wonderful. I want them not to give up. On themselves. On love. On the future.

Perhaps I write for teens because I spend a lot of time with teens and I find them astonishing. My son, a senior in high school, was doing a research project last spring for his AP chemistry class, and he chose nuclear energy. This is a passion of his and he hopes to be one of people who brings clean cold fusion to the world as a reliable energy source. He got so excited as he worked on the project, you could see him almost chomping at the bit to grow up and get on with it. 

Another time, when his group of friends were gathering at our house (yes, we are THAT house), I overheard them commenting about one of their friends who wasn't there, and who was having some personal troubles. They were very sympathetic in their thoughts about this friend, brainstorming ideas on what they could do to support him and help him. It would have been so easy to write him off as a jerk, but they showed genuine concern and caring. 

At a summer camp where I was a camp counselor for several years, I heard stories from teens that brought me to tears. One girl's father had been brutally murdered. Another girl's father was about to get out of prison and she was afraid for her safety, as he had a history of abuse. One boy told the story of his mother's drug dealer boyfriend and the abuse he and his brother had suffered by his hand. One kid had a medical condition in which he had never gone through puberty and was in his early 20s just experiencing a medically-induced puberty. One girl in my cabin talked about being one of the "invisibles" in her town and school, a kid nobody really took any notice of. 

As my own kids have gone through their teen years, I have been touched by the journeys their friends and they have taken. One boy, who is gay, was considered by his father to be useless, and his mother could barely tolerate him. He had a really  hard time in high school. But he found a college that was the perfect place for him, and he has come into his own, embracing himself and his talents. Another boy was kicked out of his house on Christmas Eve because his mother just couldn't stand another minute of his normal teenager troubles. 

While all of these people have or will probably make it into one of my books, it's not just the fodder for stories that keeps me involved with teens. It's the emotional impact they have on my life. It hurts my very soul to hear them talk about these horrors. It warms me up to hear the concern they share for a friend. And it delights me to know they want to do things in the world (besides play computer games). Their hearts are huge and exposed. 

I've heard it said before that children's writers tend to write for the age group that they identify with most, or where their inner child is stuck. Maybe that's it. My whole childhood was a wonderful pastoral life, but as a teenager, I was a mess on the inside, while wearing a mask of perfection on the outside. I certainly remember the pain and the longing, and the fear that I would be found out as a horrible hypocrite one day. 

I know this for sure: adults who love and work with teens can help those kids reach adulthood with their spirits intact and their hopes for the future still strong. It is never a waste of time to invest in a teenager. Maybe when I read teen fiction, my inner teen hears those messages and is able to heal, too. 

1 comment:

Bruce Luck said...

Nice post. You show great compassion for the people you write for.