Friday, July 5, 2013

Songs of experience...

Following the announcement that Ted Dawe's YA novel Into the River had won top prize at the NZ Post Children's Book Awards a few weeks back, commentators emerged denouncing the book for it's graphic content, saying our teens shouldn't be reading about sex and drugs in a book littered with swear words. We must protect the innocent they cried. NZ Post judge Bernard Beckett and writer Emma Neale both gave smart, rational arguments in favour of the book and its award winning credentials.

But as the mother of three, two of whom are still teens (Happy 20th Elora) and as an author of books for children and teens I too have a few thoughts on the topic. I would also like to point out I once was a child and a teen myself. I applaud books for teens that are well written and keep them reading. I applaud books for teens that tackle difficult issues of identity and growing up. I defend the rights of those who choose not to read a book but I do not believe they have the right to make that choice for all other readers in the intended demographic. A book is easily left closed on the shelf.

I love my children more than I can say. I want them to do well, to be happy, to be safe. My heart bleeds for them when things don't go well for them; when they are disappointed or brokenhearted, suffering, hurt or frustrated. But folks all I can do for them is arm them with the tools they will need to negotiate what life throws at them. One of my children recently had a major disappointment. I wanted to take her pain away. To give her the thing she wanted so much. But that would be wrong. If my children go through life only seeing a rose-coloured world, where they always get what they strive for, are never told no, and never know disappointment or loss, how will they survive as adults? A world where sex is always like a romantic movie, and a hangover is just a hilarious premise for a successful onscreen trilogy, where someone will smooth over the consequences of whatever mistakes are made - gives an incomplete understanding of how to navigate the real world. Having some strategies for dealing with the downsides of mistakes, for managing loss, anger, frustration and sadness are essential. No one gets through life without experiencing these. As an author my strategies for dealing with disappointments and rejection are regularly exercised. I would be a monumental mess if I didn't know how to deal with it. I learnt some strategies from my own life but some I learned from the books I read. This is why books that reveal the messiness of life are essential for our teens. The books that talk about some of the harsher aspects of growing up; that show others dealing with difficulties and getting through to the other side, are so important.

Teens are adults in training. I think it's useful if they understand how the adult world works before they get there.

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