Realism vs. Censorship: YA

As some folks know, I’m currently working on a YA that continues to thrill me every time I put my fingers to the keyboard.  However…I’ve been wondering if the cursing and the violence might be a tad too strong for some.  And when I say some, I’m talking about adults.

Some people are of the PG school of thought where cursing should be kept to a bear minimum if any at all.  No sex or violence either.  I can get with the no-sex rule because I’m a strong believer in teens not having sex until they’re mature enough to handle the consequences.  Then, you have those who are of the other school where realism means everything.  They want the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Though I could be wrong, I’m betting the majority of teens of the latter.

On a personal note, if I cull things that happened from my childhood it’s not rated PG or even PG-13.  It had it’s moment, sure.  Even the rated-G ones.  But it also had rated-R moments that were scarier than hell and why I won’t have anything to do with certain family members to this day.  When I look back, that decision turned out to be one of the best ones ever.  Anyway, that’s my child/teenage-hood.  Also, I started cursing when I was about 14 or 15 years old.  I wasn’t stupid either.  Those curse words NEVER came out in the presence of my family.  Only my peers, where it was perfectly acceptable.  That’s also a characteristic of my YA heroine.

So here’s the thing.  I’m pitching my book toward a YA audience and not really taking into account what the parents want, even though I know parents are the ones with the cash.  Sugarcoating the teenage life with a PG rating is fine, assuming that is what you grew up with.  I didn’t.  

Not only that, but I think you’re lying to yourselves if you think leaving things out like cursing and violence will teach your teen to be a better person.  You have to bring yourself down to their level, if you want to make an impact in their lives and get them to listen to you.  Just because parents would rather wear blinders to their kid’s activities or have an out-of-mind-out-of-sight approach, don’t assume your children are living in a paradise.  They’re not.  Ask the numerous pregnant teens, which I hear the percentages are on the rise.  Ask those teens who’ve been addicted to drugs and alcohol.  Ask those who’ve been molested, abused, or even raped.  It happens.  I’d rather deal with topics like that in a book than to sugarcoat and pretend like it never happened.  Who knows?  It might actually save someone’s life.  Or, it might make them stronger when they’re faced with entering into our R-rated adult word.

What do you think?  Even if you’ve never read a YA, are you of the school of realism or the one of censorship?

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10 thoughts on “Realism vs. Censorship: YA

  1. Found this post in the “Writing” section of WordPress, so I figured I’d give my two cents. 🙂

    To answer your question: Realism all the way. I firmly believe that censorship is the enemy of expression.

    I’d challenge any adults that think children should be sheltered to visit your typical suburban high school (such as, you know, my own). For some of my peers, every other word in their average conversation is “fuck.” A lot of people openly brag about being in a gang, having sex, and doing drugs.

    I’m not supporting that at all. I think it’s stupid; the fact is, of course, that stuff is out there and shouldn’t be stifled in any kind of media.

    A lot of my friends attended private middle schools, so coming to a private high school for them was a total culture shock. It’s pretty easy to see why!

    Power to you for addressing this issue directly and taking such a firm stance on it. Your blog has a new follower. 🙂

    • Welcome Ben! Glad to have you. 🙂

      I’ve never attended a private school, but I imagine–and I could be wrong–that private school is no different when it comes to this topic. Perhaps it’s more blantant in public schools than in private, but cursing, sex, and drugs tends to be universal in the teenage world.

      A few years back, they did a survey on teenage drug use and were surprised to find out that drug use was increasing about the middle and upper class teens. Unfortunately, that wasn’t much of a surprise to me.

      One thing I’ve learned by watching my teenage nieces and cousin grow up is they’re smart and like to keep things real. Sugarcoating the bad things in life will only perceived as an insult. Not only that, but I feel like I’ll be doing them a disservice. Not gonna happen in my family.

  2. I believe in realism. For the most part, I think parents are just happy that their children are reading. If my son had been a reader, I would’ve been thrilled, no matter how many curse words. And when I was a kid, my mom was too busy to check up on my reading. At least when I was reading, I wasn’t out with my wild friends. :mrgreen:

    • Edie, you brought back memories of a hilarious scene from the movie Bringing Down the House where Queen Latifah is having Steve Martin’s young son read a love scene–I think–aloud to her. Steve Martin is appauled, but she replied, “At least he’s reading.” Before that, I don’t think he ever picked up a book. 😆

      Like your mom, mine was too busy to check up on my reading, too. In fact, getting her to read a book to me was like pulling fingernails off Dolly Parton. When I finally started reading, my mother cared more that I had picked up a book on my own than the subject matter. In this case, it was VC. Andrews and Stephen King.

  3. Well . . . having published both YA and MG, I have to tell you . . . .

    I am all for realism. But you’re not 100% correct that it’s about parents. A YA and MG career has very strong ties to SCHOOLS and school libraries and librarians. Even your sales can figure in with that. I speak at schools . . . routinely can sell 50 books in an afternoon, as well as get a lot of loyal readers from my school visits. And very often librarians’ hands are somewhat tied with what they can recommend. And sometimes it’s the lone parent or group of parents who object to content. It’s really a lot more complicated than “should it be realism,” I think. I understand that, maybe for urban fantasy it’s less of an issue . . . but again, the topic is not totally clear-cut as whether or not to be realistic.

    • Whether it’s about the parents or not doesn’t matter to me so much. Appealing to a YA audience does. If a school says no to a book that has too much sex, violence, or drug use in it, then I have no problem with going with the flow. However, I won’t censor a book for the sake of sales, regardless of where they’re coming from. If my publisher asks me to, then that’s different and probably going up for debate. And keep in mind that whenever something controversial hits te airwaves, sales usually go up, too. So for all of those books that a school decides to ban, there are probably kids and parents who’ll buy it just to see what the hoopla is about.

  4. Seems to be the majority, Marcia. I’m for realism. I have a ten year old and I don’t plan to slap on the blinders. I’m aware of the language in the schools and can only hope she will make the right choices when it comes to other matters put forth by her peers. As parents we can only do our best and hope for the best.

    As far as swearing in a YA, its a natural fit, as is the angst, some sex and even violence. It happens … and unfortunately its a reality in our society.

    I had a 16 year old (daughter of a friend) come to me at a rummage sale and ask which books I thought her mother might allow her to read. They were romances and many were very graphic. I think I was able to steer her toward some of the more milder examples, but I remember reading books specifically for the sex scenes when I was that age. I was raised in a PG household and was curious. Learned a lot from romances. LOL.

    • I’m aware of the language in the schools and can only hope she will make the right choices when it comes to other matters put forth by her peers. As parents we can only do our best and hope for the best.

      Very true. We’re not allowed to be with our kids while they’re in school, so hopefully we can give them the tools they need when faced with hard choices. I firmly believe that books can help do that. But for a child to buy into it, it has to be as realistic as possible to them even if it is fiction.

      Of course, a parent’s job doesn’t stop there. Teens are naturally curious by nature, which is why I still plan to be the first line of defense when it comes to educating my daughter. Trust me when I say there will be no sugarcoating going on in my household. I’d rather throw it all out there on the table and deal with it a piece at a time.

  5. Stick me on the “keep it real” express. Censorship is the root of all that’s evil, imo. And I’d rather my kid read a book with well written sex scenes, than ones with violence and drugs. Maybe it’s just me, but sex is the human side of nature, and if you’re writing about it in a YA book, then that’s an opportunity to address the young masses with regard to “safe sex” vs. “abstinence.” Kids are curious by nature (I was); they’re going to experiment – better they do so keeping in mind that condoms are sold over the counter for a very good reason.

    And give me a break on omitting certain words. Language is language. I f-bomb in the confines of my home, or in the company of those who I know won’t curl back in horror. They’re just words. Kids use them, so there’s no reason to keep them out of your book, and if schools aren’t going to put them on their shelves, well then, you’ve just created HUGE sales for yourself because now kids are going to rush out and buy what the school rejects. (I did – Valley of the Dolls was not in the school library back when I attended.)

    Viva la difference! Give us freedom and screw those who believe in censorship in order to make a buck.

    • Sex scenes in YA’s aren’t hard for me to read, but they’re very hard for me to write. I’ll fight tooth and nail before I put one in my story, but if the scene calls for it, then it’ll happen. But like you said, it’s also “an opportunity to address the young masses with regard to “safe sex” vs. “abstinence.” ” That’s how I’d prefer to go about it. Use it as a chance to educate about sex. I won’t stunt my child’s curiosity, but I’ll feel better about it if I safely guide her through her decisions.

      F-bombs are pretty much a part of life these days. The day they omit them from TV, the day I’ll omit them from my books. The day they omit them from the mouths of adults, the day I’ll censor mine. I don’t see that happening anytime soon. And like you said, if schools decide to ban those books, history dicatates kids that will want it even more and find a way to possess it. I know I would.

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