It’s a Miserable Life

If you were unaware of the inaugural Summit on the Research and Teaching of Young Adult Literature that took place recently in Las Vegas, so was I. If you have pre-teenage and/or teenage children, you can’t afford to be.

This morning’s Wall Street Journal features an article about the summit by author and journalism professor Steve Salerno.   (You need a subscription to read it online.) To anyone has been paying attention, young adult literature is increasingly dark and this summit suggests that things are getting worse. Unless you live off the grid and completely isolated, your children will be exposed to this form of literature. If your children go to school, some of it may very well be required reading.

The proponents of books that feature school shootings, sexual abuse, police shootings of unarmed young Black men and dysfunctional aberrations in general, argue that the books’ real-life issues help teens navigate their society. Mr. Salerno, in contrast, contends,

“The question [about such literature] takes on added relevance amid the significant uptick in rates of depression and suicide among teens. One has to wonder whether the dystopia effectively advertised in so much of our mass media plays some role in modern hopelessness. Are high rates of depression and suicide an organic outgrowth of life’s legitimate trials—or are they a crisis manufactured, at least in part, by painting life as so much more trying than it is?”

You know which side of the controversy gets my vote. In addition to the concerns Mr. Salerno voices, I think that the books, despite the cutting-edge educators’ claim that they are inspiring, promote hostility to one’s nation and family and encourage anger and feelings of victimization.

Do you remember the movie Stand and Deliver about calculus teacher Jaime Escalante, whose inner city students excelled at Advance Placement calculus? Which is more inspiring to a teen? A true story like that which suggests that with hard work you can overcome miserable schools, low expectations and dangerous neighborhoods or one that focuses on the hopelessness of miserable schools, low expectations and dangerous neighborhoods? While I haven’t read them I have a strong suspicion that today’s preferred books fall into the latter category.

Millions of teenagers live in perfectly normal and generally healthy and safe communities. For those who don’t, knowing that there are better places and role-models seems to me to be crucial for them to move on from where they are. I’m not suggesting presenting a Pollyanish view of the world, but balance would be commendable. Barraging teens with every variety of abnormality verges on abusing them, to my way of thinking.  But I don’t have teens in my house. If you do, I encourage you to pay close attention to the messages they are getting.


19 thoughts on “It’s a Miserable Life”

  1. Edward Rubinstein

    Dear Susan,

    You needn’t ever second-guess yourself, such as when you write: Barraging teens with every variety of abnormality verges on abusing them, to my way of thinking. But I don’t have teens in my house. If you do, I encourage you to pay close attention to the messages they are getting.

    You second-guessed when you wrote, “to my way of thinking,” and although you may not have teenage children now, you once did, so you know what’s right and what’s wrong to teach them.

    Masel tov on you new grandchild, and chag sameach.

  2. Quite strange how Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn was banned, due to dislike of a cultural word describing an African.
    No, the ,” N” word is not nice, yet the character of this person Jim was better than many supposedly better.
    Seems like a mini-sermon to poke pride. We do well to copy good pictures , for as from Mishlei,” As a man thinks, so is he. ”
    There needs to be a Big Jim inside us all.

  3. Your post reverberates with me. Living in Wisconsin I have the pleasure of visiting Pepin, the birthplace of Laura Ingalls Wilder, often. On a recent visit I mourned the removal of her name from a children’s literary award by The Association for Library Service to Children. I suggested to the staff of a museum named in Laura’s honor that they should work with the other similar societies to create a new “Laura Ingalls Wilder” literary award. The person I spoke with hadn’t thought of this but offered that she’d mention it when all the societies convene later in the year. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could “light a candle” and reward authors who respect the innocence of their young readers?

  4. Thank you all for such thoughtful comments. We welcomed the newest Lapin grandson into the covenant of Abraham this morning and I’m just getting online now, so please excuse me for not replying to each one.

  5. Our local paper for Wednesday 21 March featured an article on teen suicide which focused on programs to help teens and parents communicate. The article noted that these programs “are less about old-school depression and addiction than they are about unrealistic Internet-induced expectations that perfection is actually attainable”, pointing out that “…perfectionism among performance-driven teens is a critical factor to identifying and intervening with the new face of suicide.”

    For the past several years, I’ve been irked by what seemed a sloppy use of language among various medical/dental personnel—nurses, PA’s, technicians, even some doctors. I would be asked to perform some simple task like bending a finger, lifting an arm, sticking out a tongue, taking a deep breath, or positioning an arm/leg for an x-ray, or the like, and would be told in response: “Perfect”. I would always immediately correct and admonish the speaker, reminding them that Perfection is an unattainable goal to which we all aspire, and that they really meant “Fine”, “Good”, or even just “OK”, and that the language is cheapened when “Perfection” is so easily attained by the doing of simple tasks.

    Responses have ranged from bemusement to agreement, and even appreciation for pointing out what should have been obvious. And now I see that this constant use of “Perfect” in the wider world, reinforces the belief that Perfection IS attainable, which belief is posited as a cause of teen-age suicide.

    Words do have meanings.

  6. Hi Susan,
    Yes, I do have a 15 year old daughter. And yes there is so much doom and gloom they are dealing with everyday with or without our help. I see myself lucky that I follow God’s ways and teach my daughter the same like good Jews or good loving parents should. But it is not enough even with that. Satan’s time is getting short and he is coming on stronger than he has ever before. We have to know how to protect our children from the raft of Satan. I put the Armor of God on my family and reinforce it with a Hedge as well. It seams to be working for my family. Of course this is only words without the commitment God expects from us. People do not seam to understand that all that we may learn from God and all that He has for us will only work if we do as He has ask of us. In these times we have to be stronger than any other time in life. So much can happen so fast. We more in likely want see it coming.

  7. Susan, Thank you for sharing this message. ‘You are what you read’ and also what you think about and dwell on is an appropriate reminder for everyone with young readers! When our kids were young, I required that they check out at least one non-fiction book at each trip to the library. This caused them to scan the selections for topics that interested them, and expanded their knowledge and insight!

  8. Nothing has change through the generations except for censorship. I have no children but I was a child once, many moons ago. If there were books like that around during my childhood, it would definitely reflect what was actually happening to me. I suffered those real- life issues described. They were not pleasant memories at all.

    A very pleasant memory was my enjoyment of reading books, an activity I got harassed and bully for quite frequently. The library was the only place I felt secure. The books I chose to read were biographies and anything on the supernatural. Reading biographies of successful people help me to realize everyone goes through dark times and yet there is a light somewhere, somehow if one stay focus. Reading books on the supernatural guided me into Judaism and Kabbalah.

    I thank God for given me that special gift of reading as a child. I can’t say that I only read books deemed acceptable and appropriate for me as a child. There was no guidance presented for me at the time, yet I turned out pretty well under the circumstances. Thank God for keeping me mentally, physically and spiritually sound!

  9. David Altschuler

    Exactly, and two specific thoughts:
    1. I’ve wondered for decades why Literature teachers think they are helping students grow up using dark literature, like “Lord of the Flies.” There is an age, but for some people it’s Never.
    2. Regarding even younger children – Do you recall how pleasant and reassuring the face and expressions of Superman were in the comic books some 40 years ago? But in the last generation his expression, even when doing some good deed, is one of self-righteous anger and darkness. It’s not a good indicator of where the publishers think their market is… and perhaps where they are.

  10. Susan,
    You have made good points here. I will work to include many more inspirational and uplifting events and life stories in my conversations and fb posts.
    God Bless,

  11. For the reasons you point out… My wife and I (in our 70’s) don’t go on cruises will pay to put any of our grandchildren in a private school or we will purchase teaching materials for homeschooling so long as that child maintains a “B” average. Some charter schools are okay.

  12. In contrast to the dark themed books mentioned above the male teen in my house prefers to read novels involving Greek / Roman demigods. No modern or current books of other genres exist. Because his school does not assign reading homework we never have seen the stories assigned by teachers. But we now have a middle school teen this year and will watch her books closely. Thanks for the heads up.

  13. This is such a great article. It is so true that our children are bombarded day and night with doom and gloom. Our job as parents is to give them hope in every situation. There is no reason why our children can’t read inspiring stories. When my son was in middle school in NY one of the required reading books was “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” He was sick and nauseated while reading that book. It was so totally inappropriate for this age group. Thanks for talking about this very important topic. Shalom!

  14. Teens are being given a very distorted view of society and life in general. Sad to say, the American Library Association was one of the first organizations to push this initiative along. They were the ones who first purged libraries of “offensive” books such as “Huckleberry Finn” and “To Kill A Mockingbird” while promoting the website “Ask Alice” – a portal for teens published by Planned Parenthood. The reality is that a teen will have more chance of being killed in a car accident than in a school shooting, that police-action shootings resulting in death amount to less than 1% of the total homicides in any urban area, and sexual abuse is more likely to occur in a female-headed household in which a boyfriend or male who isn’t related to the child by blood is living than it is to occur in an intact home. Reality, however, doesn’t fit the ideological narrative held and spewed by too many advocacy groups.

  15. Great article, Susan! I agree with you wholeheartedly. My family has such a hard time finding appropriate books for teens (and even preteens) these days, at both libraries and bookstores. One wonderful resource we would love to share with your other readers is the Read Aloud Revival podcast and website. Sarah Mackenzie, a fellow homeschooling mom, has put together terrific lists of recommended books by age and interest. She also published a book recently, called The Read Aloud Family, which contains the lists, as well. Thanks for calling this issue out!! Blessings!

  16. I completely agree with you, Susan. As someone who grew up in a poor environment (in the 60’s) but was an avid reader, I lapped up books that gave me a place to explore the world and other pkaces. Reading about wholesome and hopeful situations gave me hope that maybe my small world was one temporary view and life had other possible options. If I was reading the teen books of today, the mental picture would have been quite different. Thank you for sharing.

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