“Young Adult” Guidelines Raise Issues

A movement pertaining to guidelines is afloat in an attempt to lend boundaries to what fits within YA–and hence what falls outside the genre. If Colleen Nelson’s FINDING HOPE doesn’t clearly identify the issue, I don’t know what does, as her novel discusses cyber bullying, which is certainly YA content, but also sexual abuse and drug addiction. Yes, tragically, many preteens are sexually abused or sex trafficked. And certainly drug abuse can happen at an extremely young age. But is this fodder for YA?

My contention is that this is why NA has enormous value in providing the correct category for the more “extreme” themes. Should an 11-year-old be exposed to graphic scenes depicting the most depraved acts of sexual abuse, which is most assuredly where this will go if not delineated in some clear-cut way, as well as how far a child drug addict will stoop to support a habit? Do preteens need to see another boy or girl their age eating Alpo or living under an overpass in a cardboard box reeking of human waste? No one can (and many argue shouldn’t) prevent a kid from buying a book, but I believe reasonable guidelines relating to content, such as the ratings system used for TV and the movies, would be beneficial, and for parents as well.

One view is of course that the vast majority of kids are a lot more knowledgeable (read “exposed”) today, if nothing else because of the Internet, and many learn all about sexual abuse and drug addiction and a bevy of other unsavory topics well before their thirteenth birthday. As such, any book discussing these activities serves a beneficial purpose in that an inherent forum is created as a sounding board. And a well-adjusted youngster can easily make the distinction between discussion and sanction. The other side of the coin is that kids should be allowed to be kids as long as possible. I would agree more with the latter view if not for the abundant media that in my opinion is impossible to sequester.

We have guidelines designed, albeit ineffectively, to keep those under eighteen from viewing pornography; or, in some states from drinking until twenty-one; and, we all have to be a certain age get a driver’s license and vote. Granted, these examples have zero to do with when is a reasonable time in a young person’s life to be exposed to the underbelly of society, but I simply can’t see classifying sexual abuse and drug addiction as something that fits YA as a genre. NA, yes, and this is why I believe this category should have more titles attached to it. As I said, an 11-year-old can certainly buy an NA book, so this doesn’t censure a child’s predilection, should a youngster this age have an interest in the subject(s) I’ve singled out. What NA can provide, however, is at least an ambit for potential content, which is all I’m suggesting. Again, I welcome opinions from subscribers regarding whether or not there would be a benefit to some clearer distinction as to what YA encompasses.

And before closing out this topic of guidelines entirely, a way to look at this complex issue is perhaps the same as viewing the Mystery genre. A Cozy Mystery contains a murder but without graphic details, and the sex–if there is any–is soft core. Conversely, a hard-boiled Police Procedural Mystery contains every gory detail surrounding a murder, along with sexual descriptions that often can’t be distinguished from straight pornography. The point is that if I pick up a John D. MacDonald novel, I know it won’t read–from the perspective of scene depiction–the same as a book written by Mickey Spillane. Again, why I believe it wouldn’t be a bad idea to suggest YA guidelines. I apologize for devoting so much space to this topic, but I believe there are few issues more important to address than our youth.

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