Tackling The Bad Lessons From Teen Lit

By Magnolia Potter

A child’s teenage years are the time they dabble in adult decisions while not fully inoculated against the very real consequences of the adult world. It’s an important time developmentally, and if parents aren’t careful, their children can end up in real trouble. Learning the wrong lessons from literature isn’t a new phenomenon — after all, the idiotic and, ultimately, fatal nonsense Romeo and Juliet go through is still considered romantic. Media is an omnipresent and blaring influence in all of our lives; it’s important that parents of teens teach them the difference between a plot device and dangerous behaviors. 

Troublesome Media

If there’s a poster-child series for teaching teens bad behaviors it’s “Twilight.” Between Bella flinging herself off a cliff to get her distant ex-boyfriend’s attention to Edward watching Bella sleep through a window, the book is a how-to guide for dysfunctional, dangerous and deadly relationships

More recently, “13 Reasons Why,” which intends to shine a light on the issues teens face glamorizes suicide by making it an ultimate screw you to anyone who slighted main character/dead girl Hannah. She takes on everyone who has, in her mind, wronged her with her tapes — ultimately having the last word. It’s horribly irresponsible, teaching teenagers who might feel powerless to pursue killing themselves as a means of telling off anyone who has ever treated them poorly.

While “13 Reasons Why” teaches teens not to trust that their parents, friends, or guidance counselor will help them — despite the fact that they are literally there to help students with mental health needsteen copycat suicide is a real problem. Hannah’s death, so dramatically shown and powerfully maneuvered to destroy the lives of everyone she blames, even spawns a copycat of its own by the end of the story. Her story begins with a suicide, and yet doesn’t convey the finality of her act. The characters may grieve but she hasn’t gone anywhere. She gloats over her triumph through her tapes. She is immortal. In the end, the show illustrates that in life we are all alone, and that everyone will love and appreciate us more when we are dead. 

The public outcry over “13 Reasons Why” was so great that season two featured a message before each episode warning viewers of the graphic nature of the program. It urged those who might be struggling with such issues to call a helpline or watch with a trusted adult. 

Better Options

Fortunately, there are books for teens about serious issues that don’t present the issues in an irresponsible manner. Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak” addresses rape and depression in a real, powerful way. Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” deals with mental illness and how close relationships can enrich your life. Jennifer Brown’s “Hate List” addresses violence in schools, while “Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, takes on juvenile crime and imprisonment. The collected works of Ellen Hopkins discuss drugs, sex, self-harm and the many shades of addiction. 

Teen literature should, arguably, address all of these topics. It should push teens to think about their life and the lives of others. It should show teens that they’re not alone. 

The best thing parents and concerned adults can do is talk to their teens. Chances are, if a kid is heavily influenced by a book they’ll want to talk about it — after all, who doesn’t love to talk about their interests? Listen to your kids to see what message they’re getting from a book. Don’t be judgemental. Ask questions, and listen to the answers. Normalize talking about sensitive issues, and you’ll be much more likely to know when they’re weighing on your teen’s mind. And if something isn’t right, there are a multitude of resources at hand for teens who are suffering. 

Not every book has to be “Chicken Soup for the Soul,” but books should provide us with something entertainment, knowledge, solace, kinship, or growth. What they shouldn’t do is corner people in a bad situation — or propose an even worse solution. 

Magnolia Potter is a muggle from the Pacific Northwest who writes from time to time and covers a variety of topics. When Magnolia’s not writing, you can find her curled up with a good book

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