Michelle

Should YA books include swearing, sex etc?

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Obviously I'm looking at the YA books aimed at older teens, about 14+, and I was wondering whether you feel they should contain swearing, sex etc? On the one hand, do we have a responsibility to not encourage this in the books our teens read.. but on the other hand, if it's happening in society, should it be reflected in books?

 

As a parent, I'm not keen on my daughters reading books which encourage sex at a young age, especially under 16, but when you get to books aimed at the oldest age group, sometimes it can work, if relevant to the story. 

 

As for swearing, again, looking at books for older teens, I don't mind seeing some - what teen is going to go around saying 'oh gosh' and 'sugar', when there are other words to be used? However, I'd rather not see the f-word, and I don't think there's a place for the c-word anywhere, and it has to fit in with the story, and the characters.

 

Over to you - readers.. what do you prefer?

Parents.. do your thoughts change when it's your teens you're thinking about?

Authors.. what are today's trends, and what do you feel should be in YA books?

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If swearing or sex serves some purpose in the novel, no, I don't mind it at all. And I don't think I would oppose to my children reading those types of books (of course I don't have any children yet, so I don't know if I change my mind if I have children in the future).

 

I think cursewords and sex just for the sake of having some 'raunchiness' in a book is not the way to go.

Edited by frankie

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Speaking as a parent I am happy for a reasonable amount of the above depending on the age of the child, for example my 14 year old son is aware of many swear words so as long as they are relevant to the story that is ok, but I would be more cautious over sexual content as he is still young in that respect.. Some books now have age guidance on the back which is wonderful and I wish more authors/publishers would do that.  I don't want to have to do lots of research/read every book before they do.

 

I have found a website that can sometimes help though..

 

http://www.commonsensemedia.org/

 

AUTHORS:  Do you have any input into this?

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I don't have kids that age, so I might change my mind about it later,but considering that I myself was reading sexual romance novels by the time I was 14, I think sex does have its place in YA.

It is a lot on teenagers minds (at least, it was on mine and most of my friends), so excluding it fully tends to make books seem white-washed and cleaned up, like the 60s girls books I read when I was a kid, unrealistic and old-fashioned.

Also, I'm pretty sure it was always kids and teens favorite sport to intent as many swears as possible, so adding some fudge or hell will hardly impress them, never mind corrupt their minds, or something.

 

In short, I always dislike books that are simplified or cleaned up, because they are for young adults.

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Similar to a question I asked a couple of months ago, I think the writer should put in what he or she feels is right, but maybe there should then be some sort of content advisory on the back of the book that could indicate to a book buyer exactly what the book contains. I wouldn't like excessive swearing or sexual content in a YA book, but I will admit that my 11 yo is probably aware of all the words, plus some I don't know myself. Also he can see all the sex and violence he wants by watching music videos. Such a difficult balancing act, I try to keep my kids away from inappopriate stuff without making it more desireable by banning them from looking at it.

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This is the point I was trying to get across with some of my babbling someplace on here. I myself am beyond the "parent " years and in the "grandparent " years now . My kids are all in their 30's and I now have grandkids ,some of which are in the YA age group .

 

When our kids reached age 13 or so, we let them choose their reading material. There comes a time where you have to let go, and give them freedom to make their own choices . If you don't ,they will do whatever they want anyhow when out with friends, etc . You can only hope you have taught them wisely before this so they will make good decisions for themselves .

 

I am probably among the oldest  in here ,so my viewpoint tends to be much more old fashioned .It's hard for me to accept how far YA books tend to lean into certain areas . I'm not naïve, I think that is pretty much how advanced kids are anymore, compared to when I was a teen . I know they are much more well informed about birth control ,using protection, etc .It's a fine line with me. I think kids need information in this area, but if the books make it seem normal ,like a part of your daily life, then isn't it encouraging it, or telling kids it's ok ? 

 

It's a fine line to walk. You want kids to be street smart enough to make good choices, but yet you don't want them feeling like it's the right thing to do ,or do it because everyone else does, etc ...  That's where it seems difficult for me . I think if any form of media ( books, tv, movies ,etc) glamorize it or make it seem ok because everyone does it, then it seems like it's being encouraged .

 

NOTE :

 

Posted comments about bullying in schools, but moved it to the right thread .. thanks Michelle for setting up another area specifically for it .

Edited by julie

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I do think there are quite a few YA books around which tackle bullying in one form or another - I'll think about it later, and let you know.

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I don't have a problem with sex and minor swear words in YA books for the over 16s. It is possible for this to be represented responsibly. Before that age I think parents should be aware of what their children are reading by reading the books before the teens if possible. If not then they should be talking to the young people about what they have been reading and encourage then to go for books that aren't geared toward explicit casual sexual relations. I'm all for having some fantasy books but reality in all its forms need to be represented as well. I must say that the first book I read as a teen that had bullying issues was Stephen King's "Carrie", I was 14 when I read it.

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Thanks Michelle

 

Our school have started a new group of kids that are in a club . The name of it slipped my mind, but they have volunteers in each school that are sorta like a welcoming committee for new kids ,or they befriend kids who are being bullied so they don't feel so isolated .

I probably shouldn't have tossed that subject into this thread ,but having a grandson who is 11 ( and he pretty much has grown up in our house) , things that affect his age group are so important to me . He isn't bullied and doesn't bully other kids ,but it frightens me to death to see the school shootings on the news . I just think YA books would be a great area to tackle those types of issues .

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I've started you a new thread Julie, to see what's out there. Thankfully school shootings etc are so much rarer here in the UK.

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Thanks Michelle-- will post over there --

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When I was about 14 I wanted to read a book with sex in it.   I remember going into Woolworths and buying a book and hiding it in my school bag and flicking through it late at night when my parents were in bed.  I don't remember anything about the content now but I do remember skipping to the sex bits - they were exciting, although clearly not very appropriate! 

 

The thing was that I don't think there were many books which covered that subject that were suitable for my age.   I know Judy Blume's Forever was  published in 1975 but that bypassed me - I think it was pretty big in the late 80s, but I'd already left school by then.

 

My parents would have had books containing sex-scenes, no doubt (my Dad read a few Harold Robbins books - I don't know much about them but they had raunchy covers on them) - but I'd have been hugely embarrassed to have been caught looking!

 

Sadly neither of my children are readers - but I certainly wouldn't have prevented them from reading teen novels with sex in them.   I'm open with them - far more so than my parents were with me - and I would have encouraged them to discuss them with me - or I'd have read them myself. 

 

As to swearing, I always said to my children that I understood that there would be times when they used bad language, i.e when hanging out with their friends - but they knew when it was appropriate to use it and when it wasn't. 

 

I don't see the 'c' word as being any worse than the 'f' word in the pages of a book really.  I mean, I wouldn't want anybody calling me a 'c' or using the 'f' word at me - but in the pages of a book I think it's pretty harmless as long as it's in context - so as long as they're taught when swearing is appropriate and when it isn't then it shouldn't be too much of an issue.   It's like with music - they might hear swear words bleeped out on the radio, but if we've bought the CDs then they've been included - again we always said it's okay to sing along to them - but don't use them on your Granny!

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I must admit we are really rude in Italy. We use cursewords every four "normal" words in everyday life because we are so drencgìhed in bad manners that we don't even try to be ashamed of what we say. And it's so sad..

Anyway, some cursewords are used in books and even at school, sometimes, and not only by pupils but by teachers too. In my opinion it's not something to be proud of, but that's the way it is here.

I'm not a mother yet but I work with teenagers (12-18) and I have to admit they wouldn't read a book unless it's closer to their reality. When they read they want to find he same words they say when they are with their friends. I help a 14 years old dislexic boy with his homeworks and once he had to try and read a chapter of a book. He chose Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Suddenly he stopped reading and said: "Come on, he's dying and he doesn't even swear a little?"

A book should reflect the society in which we live, but what happens if the society is slowly slipping towards subculture?

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Heh, that's probably true for Germany as well. Swearing is much more mundane here and not considered much of a taboo. The same goes for sex, to a degree. Nudity and inexplicit sex scenes in afternoon television aren't anything strange.

We seem to be much more caught up with keeping our young ones from seeing violence (especially in video games) than anything else. Though I can't say I've ever heard parents complain about described violence in any books, either.

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The people I know don't swear that much, but of course I only know some people, and they're not representative of the whole of the Netherlands (generally, they're higher educated, and I do think that some of the lesser well educated people, and/or lower/poorer classes, swear more (in NL)).

 

Personally I don't like it when books (whether they're YA or adult) have a lot of swearing or sex in it. Implied sex is fine (for an adult book), but I'd prefer not to know exact details unless it's really necessary for a specific plot twist or something. I believe sex is something special between a couple and don't think intimate details of it should be known to others.

 

Swearing I think is often unnecessary. I'm okay with it if it serves a story point, otherwise I don't want to see excessive swearing. Saying the f-word once is okay, but saying it every other sentence makes reading the book a slog.

 

In regards to children, I do think we should try and give them sexual education in schools. I'd prefer it if books included this subject, rather than just being about sex and lust. I think it's an important subject, if sex happens between teenagers they should include this subject, ie. say that they used protection or something (in adult books you sometimes see them discussing it or the female character talking about birth control pills). I know it's not romantic but I think it's important. So I think it's okay if there is sex or the discussion of it, as long as the subject is dealt with respect, in a mature way (if there's a rape case then it needs to be talked about in a mature way). Teenagers need to respect the other person and take good precautions.

 

Gladly we don't have a lot of teenage mothers in the Netherlands, but I hear that in the US it can be a real problem (according to the Dr Phil Show). I think the parents and schools should educate the children well, so that they learn to wait for that special someone (or at least, not randomly do it with someone you don't think you care about) and then use protection.

 

In short, I don't like to see much swearing in books (definitely not in YA and children's books) and if there is sex in it it should be handled in a mature way (the main characters should also not be too young). I might be in the minority though as I tend to be more sensitive about these things than most people. I'm very bothered by seeing any type of nudity on TV, for example.

Edited by Athena

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Try to imagine a book industry where YA as a genre didn't exist. It's not that long ago, actually. I'm 46 years old in four days. 30 years ago when I was sixteen, there was no YA. So what did I read? Everything else. I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul but also pulp fiction with a lot of sex, violence and swearing. If my friends were reading, they were reading something that grabbed their eye at the library or at a bookstore and I don't recall there ever being concern about the content of a book or whether it might be age appropriate for a teenager. There are times, I think, when we think too much about what young people should or shouldn't be reading.

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That is very true Sean, now I think about it. I'm 5 years younger than you (Ha!) but I also jumped straight to King, Saul etc, and I imagine many of us were the same. And I think I turned out ok. 

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Exactly, Michelle. If YA exists now, it exists because someone saw the value in writing books for teens. If it didn't exist now, young people would be reading everything else that's out there and ... well ... who says they aren't reading everything else that's out there? 

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I think the kids probably are more savvy where cursing is concerned than many adults, and to sanitize books for them seems a bit hypocritical to me.  Also if the kids today are anything like I was, the more parents try to stop them from doing something, the more they want to do it.  Reverse psychology is a parents best friend. :)

 

For example, I do not smoke today because from an early age, I was allowed to "taste" cigarettes.  If it had been absolutely forbidden I feel it could easily been a different story.

 

I do cuss however.  /sigh/ Oh well.

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Try to imagine a book industry where YA as a genre didn't exist. It's not that long ago, actually. I'm 46 years old in four days. 30 years ago when I was sixteen, there was no YA. So what did I read? Everything else. I read Stephen King, Dean Koontz, John Saul but also pulp fiction with a lot of sex, violence and swearing. If my friends were reading, they were reading something that grabbed their eye at the library or at a bookstore and I don't recall there ever being concern about the content of a book or whether it might be age appropriate for a teenager. There are times, I think, when we think too much about what young people should or shouldn't be reading.

 

This is very true and a good point. I read YA when growing up (I'm a product of the 80s), but I also read adult books :shrug: I read The Secret Diary of Laura Palmer (if you know Twin Peaks, you know this is not a kiddies' book!) when I was in elementary school, meaning I was maybe 11 or 12yo. (And I watched the show, too!) Did it make me swear like a sailor and go all wild in a naughty naughty way? It did not. :shrug:

 

My reading wasn't at all monitored (for which I'm grateful), but I think if adults allow their children to read anything they like, and don't treat certain types of books as taboos, and especially if they make their children know that if a kid has a problem with a book, they can always come and talk to the adult about it, the kids will feel safer. They know they won't be judged, they don't have to hide the books they are reading, and maybe they will allow the adult into their reading world. Open lines of communication! :yes:

 

 

I think the kids probably are more savvy where cursing is concerned than many adults, and to sanitize books for them seems a bit hypocritical to me. Also if the kids today are anything like I was, the more parents try to stop them from doing something, the more they want to do it. Reverse psychology is a parents best friend. :)

 

I very much agree with this :)

 

Although personally I wouldn't do it for the sake of reverse psychology, but it doesn't hurt :shrug:

 

I do cuss however. /sigh/ Oh well.

 

I think you could do a lot worse :D That's not unhealthy or dangerous ;)

Edited by frankie

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At some point children grow up and become adults. To hide stuff from the adult world from teachers is unhelpful and patronising. So I'm fine with "mature content" as long it's justified.

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I think Sean made a very good point.  When I was young I read lots of "older" books that I probably wasn't supposed to. I just used to read whatever I came across in the house that my dad had got from the library. Mostly crime and spy novels, SF and Westerns. But I think that because they were written for adults, if there was any sex or violence in them it shaped my brain and made me think about those things more in an adult way. I would often find stuff that I did not understand until much later, not always sex stuff but often about relationships and feelings. I just stored those things away in my head.  

I don't think that reading them too early did me any harm at all; in fact if a child does not stretch his/her brain to take in things they do not understand they will not progress.

Also, lets be honest, sex and relationships are things that preoccupy a teens mind to a large extent.  Better they can learn about plausible situations (and consequences) in  a book or two than have to have a hard lesson in real life.

But sex and violence for its own sake though, or held up as a lifestyle example , that's just rubbish anyway. There has always been junk writing . It's even OK to ingest and enjoy a certain amount of junk as long as you know it is junk. But if all you read or watch is junk then that's obviously not good. 

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I have teens (16 and 15).  They don't read, but if they did, I know they'd find books without swearing unrealistic.  Unfortunately swearing is part of their world, and for that reason, it shouldn't be left out of books, as long as its appropriate.  Too much swearing isn't necessary, but none at all just isn't realistic.  As for sex, if they want to read about it, they will.  If it's not in YA books, they'll find it elsewhere.  I remember my friends and I looking up sex references, and I know when I worked in the library sex was the most common subject searched for.  It doesn't need to be descriptive or anything, but if it's necessary to the story it should be there.

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I think one of the good reasons for including sex, drugs, violence and other difficult subjects in YA books, is that it can be a vehicle to show the possible consequences of decisions that teenagers may have to make at some point in their life, and make them think about how they might tackle the same situations if they ever face them themselves.  That's not to say they should preach to their readers, but can provide different perspectives and explore the consequences of their actions.

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I think that whatever makes the novel more realistic is what should be used. In a novel where the kids are part of a bad group of kids there will be a lot of swearing. If its a girl going through the troubles of high school or college, then there might be sex or pressures of sex involved. 

 

Putting swearing and sex into a YA novel just because its a YA book and that's what an author might think a YA might want to read about or just putting it in there without a real reason is unnecessary.  

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