How Much is Too Much?

Here we go! Another terrific paper from a 320R student.
Thank you, 
Amanda Wind

As writers of YA literature, we have a chance to expose kids to what we call “the real world.” How much can we say, though?

This semester at college I’m taking two classes about YA literature. I spotted a trend I didn’t notice as a sheltered teenager from Utah. Much of the “best” adolescent literature contains mature content. It has swearing, graphic violence, drug use, and sex. It deals with rape, murder, and abuse. I’ve noticed how much this content affects me, and the effect is not always comfortable. Where, as writers, do we stop?

The biggest problem we face is that teens aren’t children or adults. They want to learn about the world, experience adult things, but they may not be mature enough to handle it all. How do writers judge how much a teenager can handle?

In truth, we can’t. All we can do is define our own level of comfort and build from there. I don’t feel comfortable with explicit description of rape, but I would be willing to write about someone whose life was affected by it. From there, I build on the question of why I include such content.

Jennifer McDaniel, an English teacher from Pennsylvania, published an article about why dark material in YA literature is important. She said, “Such books allow the reader an intimate yet safe look down a road they will hopefully never travel.” Writers should have this concept in mind. We aim to give teens a look at the world they live in without experiencing its consequences. They learn and begin to understand “the real world” through another person’s story, even a fictional one.

In drawing the line on mature content in YA literature, we have to follow three steps: first we decide our own level of comfort. Second, we ask ourselves why we include it and whether its purpose is valid. Writers then must respect the principle of “self-censorship.” All in all, how much mature content teens can handle is up to them. As writers we must be willing to accept that not everyone is comfortable with what we write and that our comfort level shouldn’t dictate someone else’s. We set our own line and give teens the chance to decide for themselves what they are willing to read.


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2 responses to “How Much is Too Much?

  1. Cheryl Christensen

    Excellent article!

  2. Joe

    I heard Joan Bauer say at a conference that we write about dark subjects so that others may see a silver lining in their own lives (or something like that).


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