Times have changed. I remember thinking that life was simpler when my parents were young. Maybe it was a symptom of my parents’ childhood appearing in black and white or maybe it was the entertainment choices from that time, when bad language, sex, and violence were more closely monitored and hidden away. But it all seemed so much more pure and clean. I am now beginning to view my own childhood that way when compared with the children of today. Seeing it through the eyes of my own kids has a way of putting rose-colored glasses on my own childhood.
Being the reader that I am, I am more keenly aware of the change in the written word from my childhood to the current generation and it scares me. Not scares me as in “I am scared for the future” but scares me, as in “that stuff scares me, it truly gives me the willies.” What am I talking about? Have you been to a bookstore lately?
My family took its annual pilgrimage to the Festival of Books this weekend and I was reminded yet again of how much books have changed. The young adult books seem to have gone the way of the 8-track player. It is either Fancy Nancy and Amelia Bedelia or it is wizards and warlocks and vampires. Is this what our kids are reading??
When I was a kid, I remember vividly the kids’ books I read. Whether they were Beverly Cleary, “Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing,” or Choose Your Own Adventure, the young adult books seemed wholesome and winsome. After I had graduated from that genre, I don’t remember many options. Sweet Valley High is really all that I remember and there didn’t seem to be any other alternatives, although The Hardy Boys and various sports-themed books were available.
So when I turned 12, I jumped to the bestseller list. Presumed Innocent was one of the first ones I remember reading when I was 12 and other than that it was The Caine Mutiny and Exodus… “novels,” not “books,” you know? Maybe there were young adult options, but they didn’t interest me for whatever reason.
As times have changed, so have the reading tastes of our young adults. Look, I am all for kids reading. I used to be teased and picked on because I was never without a book in my hands. And more often than not, the books did not have any pictures. But nowadays, the books that our kids read are downright frightening and as a parent I am nervous. I mean, I want to encourage reading, but do I really want my kids reading these kinds of books?
It seems to have started with the Harry Potter books and everyone else has tried to either copy or outdo them. The furor over Harry Potter and its story-line in which one of the characters is killed (in Book 4) seems tame compared with what I see in the book store. No, I am not trolling the kids’ section for books, but I do venture into that area when looking for books for my kids. And the things I see are disturbing.
Skelteons and mass murderers and sorcerers and all types of villainy were customarily reserved for the science fiction/fantasy section. Now, they are at the forefront of the young adult section. I am already aware that movies and television are working to create a society which is desensitized to violence and horror, but do we really want our literature doing the same?
Here are some of the titles on Amazon.com’s bestseller list for teens: “The Hunger Games” about a post-apocalyptic world in which children are used as gladiators in televised fights to the death; “Switched” which includes a character whose mother tried to kill her because she thought she was a monster; “Turned” which is Volume 1 of the “Vampire Journals”; and of course, the “Twilight” saga about, I guess vampires and werewolves. I don’t want my little girls reading this stuff!
I know that they will not always be into princesses and Barbie and Dora the Explorer, but I do not want them exposed to murder and mayhem and blood-sucking and hard-core villainy at such a young age.
My wife and I were talking about this a few weeks ago and it is seeming more and more as if we cannot trust the publishers to appropriately categorize the books. We as parents are forced to read the books first so that we can determine if they are appropriate for our kids. As a scaredy-cat, I am frightened of this. I don’t want to read this stuff and get nightmares!!!
For as much as Harry Potter was for young adults, when I read them as an adult, the only thing I found to be “young adult” about them was their simplistic writing styles and use of more mono-syllabic words. The subject matter was more akin, in my estimation, to a Stephen King-lite. I mean, come on! The theory of the story is that Harry is the boy who lived when his parents were murdered. My daughter cries at Phineas and Ferb, do I really want her exposed to parents being murdered??????
Our kids are so influenceable by the media; they are potentially more apt to be fanatical than adults because their worlds are so limited; their exposure to the outside world is virtually non-existent so their paths of escape are limited to the media. They become engrossed in these subject matters and they lose their innocence and amiability. It saddens me as a parent of two little girls.
Of course, our grandparents must have felt the same way when “Catcher in the Rye” was released and our parents were sure concerned by “Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret” (never read it). So maybe this is just another symptom of the generational evolution. But am I not allowed to harken back to a simpler time? Maybe I am just an old soul like that…
Well, I need to end now. I am thoroughly engrossed in a murder mystery with sexual undertones involving a serial-killing vampire/pirate/werewolf. Gotta get back to it…
Have a great week.