A Letter to Parents of Teens by Patty Blount
Dear Parents of a Teen or Tween,
This month, we're blogging about parents in YA fiction...but I thought perhaps it's a good opportunity to talk directly to you, as a parent of a reader of YA fiction.
If you've ever watched a Disney movie -- pretty much any Disney movie -- you've probably noticed the conspicuous lack of parents. Pinocchio, Snow White, Cinderella as well as contemporary properties like Star Wars and Guardians of the Galaxy, all feature dead or missing parents.
I'm sure there are workshops and podcasts devoted to the psychology behind killing off parents in such tales but suffice to say, it's a plot device that has served Disney well over the years by compelling child characters to grow up fast and make decisions based on emotion and lack of experience that drive the story forward in ways Disney required. Disney was sadly not alone; hundreds of YA novels exist with absent parents. My guess is authors believed that their child characters would never be permitted to complete their Hero's Journeys if they were grounded or out on school nights after curfew.
Regardless of the purpose, it's a trope that's become a cliché.
So let's flip the conversation. Let's talk about Young Adult fiction that you'd like for your children to read. Perhaps you're grappling with what reading material is appropriate for your child and what isn't. Perhaps you're frustrated with the lack of representation for your child's particular situation. Young Adult fiction provides readers with safe and empathetic experiences to situations, cultures, and adventures they might never experience. Before you consider outlawing a particular title for your child, I hope you'll consider reading it first and then, perhaps reading it together. To aid you in such endeavors, my website has first chapters of all of my novels, so you can try before you buy.
Reading the same books provides parents with unlimited opportunities to engage -- and perhaps more importantly -- be engaged by their children. As a parent myself, I don't know if I've ever been more humbled than to see how wrong I was when I blithely assumed I knew everything there was to know about my children. Reading popular stories like Harry Potter, Simon and The Hate U Give together provides priceless glimpses into your child's mind --and could even form the foundation of a life-long activity you'll continue to do together as they grow.
I'm proud to reveal that this is what happened with my youngest son and me. I started reading Harry Potter to him when he was too little to manage the large books alone. By Book 3, he was ready to try. We spent hours discussing the mythology of Harry Potter -- how Christ-like he is, and how Star Wars is the exact same story.
His insights impressed me! I hadn't realized he was capable of such insight and well-reasoned conclusions.
From HP, we moved on to other books. We read Eragon, The Hunger Games, and Divergent together. We read 13 Reasons Why together. He came home from school one day with classics I never read and together we MOURNED for Old Dan and Little Ann in Where the Red Fern Grows, applauded Brian's pluck in Hatchet. He suggested I read The Kite Runner because it made him angry. As I was writing my own YA novels, his input was crucial to my progress. In fact, while explaining to me how character development is critical in Dungeons & Dragons, he invited me to create a character of my own and join his friends in their games. He bought a video game he'd heard about solely because of its story, believing it would appeal to me.
Spoiler alert: he was right. That game was THE LAST OF US, PART 2 and the story-telling was nothing short of brilliant.
That child is 27 years old now. Reading YA fiction together has been my favorite part of raising him. It offered me future glimpses of the man he's since become... a gift I will treasure for the rest of my life.
Do you read books with your teens and tweens? If so, which titles? My son and I like hearing recommendations for our next selection!