Before I begin my rant, let me just say if you haven’t read Chuck Wendig’s work, you’re missing out on some uber-fantastic writing. Hands down, Miriam Black is THE BEST MC ever. Ever. Wendig… man, that guy’s a frickin’ word God. Seriously. Check out his website, too. His blog is probably the best writer’s blog out there.

So, rant. While trolling through the reviews for Under the Empyrean Sky, Wendig’s first young adult novel, I came across some comments that irritated me. Mainly the comments came from parents who didn’t like Wendig’s use of profanity or his teenage MC having sex—which, by the way, is off screen, so chill out.


Since when did teenagers quit swearing or having sex?

Here’s my question: Should writers write to the approval of those parents who somehow forgot their teenage years, or should they create realistic, relatable characters their target audience can connect with?

Come on, people! To me, the answer’s simple. Not one teenager I know—and I have two bonafide teenage girls living right here, in this house!—has ever enjoyed reading a book that spends three hundred pages talking down to them while trying to teach a “valuable” lesson.

What do I think they enjoy, you ask? You didn’t? Imma tell you anyway. They want stories about people like them, or at least people who are feeling some of the same stuff.

Yes, people like them. I’m not talking about the people parents think their teens are. You following? I’m talking about who teens are when not sitting around the dinner table. You know, the real people with a messy, screwed-up beautiful core underneath all that fake lacquer they use as camouflage. And guess what, parents? They swear, think about sex… think about all kinds of stuff they don’t tell you about. Trust me, they’re doing you a favor.

So thank them, please. Do it now. And then let them read about, watch, and listen to people who they can relate to—people who let them know they’re not alone. If you do, one day, I guarantee, they’ll be thanking you.

So, what’s your opinion? Agree? Want to tell me I’m nuts? Leave a comment and let’s chat about it.



7 thoughts on “PG-13ish?

  1. I had to think a few minutes for this one. Honestly, I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer because it depends on a number of different factors.
    First, age… YA these days covers quite a broad age spectrum…it’s the lower end of this, or the even advanced reader tweens or younger, where I think this might be an issue.

    Second, the readers themselves… some kids/teens are, I suppose you could say, a lot more ‘sheltered’ than others. For some sex and swearing wouldn’t be an issue, for them or the parents, for others perhaps it is.

    However I have to say my biggest issue with YA having swearing and sex these days, is how SOME (not all!) writers portray it. Mostly this is in regards to sex, however even profuse swearing can have consequences. It’s the stories with the absolutely STUPID characters, who do things that make no sense, and yet the story shows no consequences that irk me. I’ve read too many YA books, even as a teen myself, where I couldn’t believe how dumb the girls were. It’s insulting and leaves a bad example. Yes, teens can be impulsive, not think everything through, there is roller coaster of hormones and emotions, but they still have brains.

    I remember when I was younger and a very avid reader, I’d read my mothers fantasy books, or at least the ones she hadn’t written ‘Jen NO!” in the cover of. 🙂
    Being a mom now, I do keep an eye on what my kids read… however I’ve 2 boys and the oldest isn’t quite 12 yet so perhaps I’m just ‘behind in the times’. Would I let my almost 12 yr old read a book full of swearing and sex? No, not yet… in a few years…well I probably couldn’t stop them, or wouldn’t notice before they’d finished. (Kid already reads a book a night) 🙂

    Great post, Lynn!

  2. I personally think you’re right. I don’t think teenagers want to watch or listen to the stuff that we listen to or watch that they consider boring or what we would prefer that they listen to watch. I think they should have the right to be themselves, a part of the deciding who you are process is exploring, tasting all the dishes at the buffet if you will. That’s how we find out who we are and who we are not so why should we suffocate them? It’s actually alienating them, forcing them to hide their true selves from the people they love the most. YOU go Ms. Lynn, you have my permission to speak freely.

  3. I can tell you what I was doing at the tender age of fifteen, which was only *counts* eight years ago. I was in my bedroom with my older boyfriend doing things my mom would faint if she knew about. The more I was told no, the more innovative I became in finding ways to get what I wanted. And I didn’t learn it from no damn book, I can tell ya that.

    Bottom line, kids want what they can’t have. And if they want something, they will get it. It’s natural to be curious at that age. They are only just discovering their bodies. Sex isn’t just something we do. It’s a basic human function and need. I think the whole world would benefit if we stopped acting like sex is some taboo, unheard of act. There’s so much guilt pushed on people for their sexuality. The main thing we should tell our children is that, yes, you’ll have these feelings. Yes, they are normal and everyone has them. Learn your body and enjoy yourself, but be smart, be safe, and be careful. Teach them the repercussions of the act. You would be amazed to see how many kids don’t know how babies are made, don’t know how diseases are transmitted, and many other basics of sex. So much ignorance.

    I would rather read about a real person than be talked at. I’m not a teen, but I’m close enough. A book, movie, or video game has never influenced me to have sex or not have sex, do drugs or not do drugs, kill someone or not kill someone. I am responsible for my own actions; I make my own decisions.

    Your child is not just your child. They are a person with desires, feelings, hopes, their own ideas and thoughts that are not YOUR ideas and thoughts. They should be treated as such.

  4. I have worked with young people for a good few years now, both in formal and informal settings. The more you tell young people (and adults alike) not to do something, the more appealing it makes it. Fiction is, for many, as opportunity to escape, live vicariously, learn, and be free.

    Whilst, I wouldn’t want my babies (okay, my babies are a good few years off this issue yet) growing up reading about very graphic sexual scenarios, there is no escaping sex. It’s everywhere. YA should include the issues and topics young readers and MC’s are faced with. It should be relatable and explore difficult and sensitive issues head on.

    Thinking back fifteen years to my teenage years, the kids who got up to the most jaw dropping antics were the ones most oppressed by their parents. I think it’s all about open communication and moderation. I’d much rather my child be reading about such things and navigating their own thoughts and feelings about the issue, than being so shut away it becomes taboo.

  5. I come from a very conservative home, so this is one that I struggle with. I’ve been shocked at some of the YA books that I’ve read, and found some of them to have extremely detailed sex scenes. I don’t read much contemporary or romance YA for that reason. Profanity doesn’t bother me near as much as it did while growing up, but I will still put a book down if it’s excessive – more because I find it annoying than offensive. Even so, I still think authors are under no obligation to tone down their material. They can write how they choose to write and teens (and their parents) can choose whether or not to read their material. Censorship is up to a parent, and as kids grow older the parent has to trust that whatever values they’ve attempted to instill in their child will stick regardless of what they’re reading (or seeing on TV for that matter).

    On a side note, I DO wish there were more authors writing novels that were a bit more neutral. It’s true that many teens are swearing and having sex, but there are also teens out there that aren’t doing those things, and many of the YA readers that are truly YA fall in that second camp, because they’re spending more time at home reading books versus out fooling around. So it would be nice for there to be more options for the crowd that doesn’t want to read so much profanity and sex. And for the parents, it would be nice if there was some sort of PG/PG-13 rating to assist them in picking books with their kids so they don’t have to pre-read everything.

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