Personally, I’m in the camp that any and all adult fiction or non-fiction should not be censored at all for the adult population.
But you’re probably aware I purposefully said the word “adult.”
I think most people (or at least I hope most people) would agree that children’s fiction should not have high (or perhaps any) levels of gratuitous violence, sexual activity, swearing, hate, etc. And that’s simple enough to say when the child in question is reading board books, picture books, chapter books, etc.
But things begin to get slightly dicey when we reach middle grade, where certain levels of violence or difficult situations may, in fact, be favorable to show coming-of-age story lines or excite children who want to read about dragon-riding or dinosaurs or space battles where the heroes come out on top.
Then there’s YA, strictly in a camp all its own. And that camp is a complete and utter mess, if you ask me (which you weren’t, but I’m answering anyway).
YA, despite its moniker of young adult, is generally considered aimed at children between the ages of 12/13-18. Which, again, if you ask me, is a pretty huge disparity. Children at age 12 might not even have begun puberty, where at 18, you’re not only considered an adult in most countries, but you’ve probably been faced with many adult decisions concerning your own health, sexual activity, future, life choices, relationships, etc. One would hope that at 18 you’d have enough past experiences, enough common sense, enough knowledge to think analytically. Sure, you’ll still make mistakes, but we all do at any age.
However, I have a distinct problem with YA authors aiming their books solely at that higher range audience and forgetting that children as young as 12-13 will also be picking up and reading their work. No, I’m not going to say that all violence and sexual situations should be removed. However, I do adamantly believe authors of YA have just as much responsibility as any other children’s fiction author.
LET’S TAKE AN EXAMPLE:
Twilight. I’m not going to hit on this story for anything but what I view as the author’s responsibility to her younger readers. [Every adult or close-to-adult who read and loved this book should embrace whatever warmth they received from this book. And those of us who didn’t like it can embrace that too.] Within Twilight, there are two distinct problems when handing this book to a 13 year old.
Firstly, the relationship between the two love interests glorifies grooming of minors. A hundred-year-old man, regardless of how attractive he might look, is still a hundred-year-old man. This type of relationship merely serves to teach or reinforce the idea (originally perpetrated by men historically so they could marry incredibly young brides) that young girls should be flattered when a man almost twice their age showers them with attention. This type of belief leads to a lot of heartache, a lot of toxic relationships, a lot of abuse. It’s incredibly negligent in my opinion for children’s authors to ever write about a full adult (of any gender) becoming involved with a minor, unless the relationship is shown to be a problem and that is enforced in the narrative. (I would also like to point out that I believe there’s a second, just as disturbing relationship later with an adult and a baby, but I didn’t read that far.) This age disparity is not unique to Twilight.
Secondly, stalking is normalized and romanticized. The hundred-year-old man is shown to follow her, to watch her sleep, to know where she is at all times, to literally think of her as prey (because her smell is irresistible). This is called…stalking. It’s highly concerning, highly disturbing for the person actually being stalked. The attractiveness of the stalker is irrelevant and should never come into play, and yet, for many people who don’t fully understand the implications of stalking, they believe it’s harmless, or even flattering. This leads to a serious problem when young girls (or boys) begin to think that stalking isn’t serious, that they should be flattered, that they shouldn‘t report the stalker. It’s a nasty form of cultural gas-lighting and it starts at this young age, confusing them into thinking stalking is equivalent to romance.
There are other YA stories:
Those that deal with glorifying violence, use violence as a first resort, romanticize rape, or have the victim of rape fall in love with their rapist, show the word “no” being portrayed as a “yes,” excuse abuse toward a relationship partner (looking at you Six of Crows), show manipulation/seduction positively without any doubts or remorse on the part of the perpetrator, show racist, sexist, other biased behavior done through the eyes of the heroic character without the behavior being called out as inappropriate. The list is long. Not endless, but definitely messy.
And what’s worse…is NONE of this is a problem, IF the books are for adults. But when you’re writing for an age range that dips down to 12-13, you have to be aware of your responsibility. So many authors for younger audiences don’t just forget about this, they actively protest that it’s not their responsibility. I argue that it is.
You don’t want to be responsible for influencing young teen girls into beliefs that could end up hurting them fiercely? Then don’t write your subtle endorsements of toxic manipulation into your novels.
If you want free reign, then write for adults. It’s a happy place here. We’ll welcome you.