Today’s YA issues may be more varied than you think…
What makes a story appeal to teens? Not surprisingly, they want novels that are relevant to their age group and the problems they face. A teenager today may share some basic desires and problems with a teenager in 1939, but you’ll find there are quite a lot of differences too. Do you know what Teens consider the biggest YA issues today?
I’ve compiled this list of YA Issues by asking a few English classes filled with 16yr. olds. I was amazed at their enthusiasm to contribute to the discussion.
- Sexuality. This is a biggie. Teens find this age-bracket very confusing, with the need to identify their own sexuality and the worry of what is considered right or wrong by their peers. Some are embarking on their first sexual relationships (whether we want them to or not) and others are terrified about what will be expected from them (this is not just the girls). The students told me they do not like novels that ignore this issue completely.
- Relationships and friendships. Social peers are the most valued relationships at this age. Being left out, or worse, pushed out of a social group is extremely painful.
- Social power. There are hierarchies within groups for the teen bracket. Those are defined by your social power – how much influence you have over your peers. This can be influenced by sporting achievements, attractiveness and even how outspoken you are on Facebook.
- Social responsibility. It’s heart-warming to know kids rate this issue highly. Many teens see it as their responsibility to look out for their mates. This can also mean standing up for the underdog or even standing up against your peers (and risking your social power).
- Bullying – When I was a kid you risked being punched (or worse – spat at) but now the most common risk is via Facebook slandering. I still haven’t figured out why kids care so much about what some kid says about them on Facebook, but they do. Must have something to do with that social power hierarchy. One of the issues raised in my writing workshop was the fact that kids are online early in the morning, late at night and via their mobiles during the day (even during class time – grrr). This suggests there is no ‘off’ time – that people can reach you, and therefore bully you 24/7.
- Risk taking. Drugs, alcohol and misadventure are all playing a part in a lot of teens’ lives. Unfortunately they believe that we as adults do not know what we are talking about and feel they are completely safe because they have their mates with them. Planking was a new topic that became an obviously dangerous pastime for students recently.
- Belief system. Teens are coming into an age where they stop taking information provided by adults as being automatically right and start making their own decisions about their belief system. This might manifest in some teens as an interest in or a rebellion against religion, or it might just be their ideas on social justice.
- Freedom. Many teens feel they should be able to go out and explore life, live it the way they want, but due to financial and parental restrictions, they can not. This is quite frustrating (but after suggesting risk-taking as a part of their life, I can understand the parental restrictions!).
- Anger. This manifests in many teens, most likely due to hormonal changes as well as a desire for freedom, but still feeling restrictions from family. In the extreme we have boys and girls lashing out with physical violence or self-harm (such as cutting).
- Multiculturalism. This is a two-sided issue. It’s important to teens to have a feeling of assimilation, so this would be heightened for any teen feeling their culture does not fit in with the local teens ideas of what is acceptable. It is also an issue for teens to accept new cultures into their community. This is an issue we are dealing with in class now as prejudice is one of the themes we are exploring.
- Fear. Many teens admitted they feel there are outside threats to their existence. Although teens have an unhealthy feeling of invincibility when it comes to their own reckless actions of risk-taking, they do believe the hyped-media coverage of threats to the community/wider world. Some of these threats the kids felt they could be exposed to are: Terrorists attacking their neighbourhood, an Ebola breakout (at school), pedophiles driving around in a white van, and finally, our country being hit with nuclear weapons.
- Acceptance by adults. Teens don’t want to admit it, but they care deeply what you, the adult, think of them. Most assume the adults in their lives see them as incapable, incompetent and unintelligent. When they are left feeling inadequate, they rebel by acting like they don’t care anyway. Many will brag about being in ‘the dumb class’ or being ‘the worst class you’ve ever had’, but as soon as they receive genuine praise, their faces light up and they can’t do enough to please you. If they do not feel their parents/carers are proud of them, they will seek this reaction from other adults such as friend’s parents, teachers, sports coaches, employers, etc. Interestingly, domestic violence was discussed, but the idea of being rejected by a parent rated higher than fear of being hit.
Sadly, being seen to have poor grammar when you mix up ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’ didn’t even factor.
All these issues can easily be used as themes for your next YA novel. Remember to write your protagonist strong, teens like to imagine they can overcome these issues.