Saturday, July 9, 2011

Dark literature for Teens

As a parenting counselor, Randy Rolfe, that's me, has taken a great deal of interest in the lively discussion prompted by the Wall Street Journal article about the trend towards dark and graphic literature for teens. Authors of these novels say that they are helping teens deal with the dark side of life they encounter around them and make wiser choices. Authors run too from the idea of censoring these books, reminding us that we live in a society of free expression. Parents take different positions, some saying they trust their children to choose books wisely, others saying they vet or read their children's literature and sometimes discuss it, while others maintain that the stories are unnecessarily dark and give children the wrong impression of life.

Children as far back as we know have always been fascinated by the macabre, since adults seldom talk about such things with their children, unless they are trying to scare them, so there is mystery and fascination. Grimm's fairytales are pretty grim, for example. But as the author of the WSJ article pointed out, there is a definite trend towards more graphic descriptions of the ugly side of abuse and violence of all kinds. Do any of us really need to have such images in our minds, much less our kids?

One factor rarely included in these discussions is the fact that today's children have less supervision than any previous generation. With a single working parent, or two parents working sometimes three of four jobs, kids are largely unsupervised. We hear about helicopter parents, but these are not the opposite of these parents who don't supervise, they are just the ones more attached to getting the results they want to see in their children's lives. They are a result of this same trend in our society towards putting a great deal of responsibility on children to raise themselves. Helicopter parents just check up on them more. It is completely unrealistic to expect a child who gets seduced by the graphic depictions of the underside of life to realize that there are happier healthier alternatives to the startle factor in a book recommended by an admired friend at school. Instead, parents do need to stay in charge of what their teens are exposed to. That's why they are still under our roof. They still need guidance from the adult best placed to give it to them.

What comes into our house and into our children's hands is OUR responsibility. Whatever your child is reading, whatever movie they want to see, whatever friend they want to hang out with, it's our job to exert guidance, to advise, discuss, listen, and set perameters. The frequency of exposure is just as important as the substance of the material. This discussion is much like the one about violent video games. Sure we want our children to love to read, but it is our job to see that ALL their literature isn't dark, because they WILL get a skewed view of life. Sure we allow our children to play a violent video game once in a while with friends, but it is our job to see that it is not so often that they become jumpy, fearful, and inattentive, as videogame addicts do.

As a lawyer, I am sensitive to the argument that these dark books are a matter of free speech. Of course we should not prohibit them. This is not a matter for the government or the law. It is a matter for the parents. And the discussion is a critical one to have, because parents need to know what is out there, what the trends are, and what they want to do to help their children mature in a healthy way.

Take Home Tip from Randy Rolfe: Tell your children what you are reading and why and what you are getting out of it, whether fun, adventure, learning, or whatever, and then ask them about their reading. Avoid being judgmental but keep the conversation going. If their tastes are becoming too one-sided, suggest that together you explore some of your old favorites. Or take time on your own to discover contemporary books that are more in the direction you would like them to go and ask them to do you the favor of trying them out.

No comments: