Beth Fine

Educational Fiction Author – Serious Thinker – Child at Heart

Teen Literature and Culture

Lately, I’ve grown concerned over the alphabetical canon of fiction being read by teens: aliens, demons, dragons, fairytale, fantasy, monsters, occult, vampires, witches, wizards, and zombies.

Although we all get stuck in a “fun” genre from time to time, I wonder if the above list may somehow separate future adults from the reality, discernment, and critical thinking required to function maturely as productive citizens.

At the same time, many other books written for teens seem to collide by design. While unreality clogs the fictional choices, non-fiction has its own circle of pet reality topics.

  1. Heart-rending exposés of victims being bullied or trapped in a minority
  2. Innocent sounding occult texts in tantalizing robes
  3. How-to guides on looking sexy/glamorous, repeating familiar formulas.

These conflicting visions offer random advice to the vulnerable teenager who longs to become an adult but whose brain and neurology has not fully developed. Parents totally buffaloed by their sullen, non-serious, and rebellious youth fear for their brood’s success in college and life. From the mid-20th century on, a plethora of professional advice books began to arrive on the scene to meet that need.

Yet, sociological and psychological authors often contradicted each other, contradictions that sometimes caused greater recriminations and feelings of failure in parents. Now researchers have more finely tuned tools to study the physiological side of teenage behavior. For that reason, I just ordered two books which I hope will inform me further on the nature of teenage brains:

 You Have a Brain: A Teen’s Guide to T.H.I.N.K. B.I.G (Dr. Ben Carson, brain surgeon)

The Teenage Brain (Dr. Frances Jensen, head of neurology at the Univ. of Pennsylvania)

Even so, without accurate measuring tools or statistical data in the past, ancient opinions on youth reflected uniform ideas throughout the centuries, leading me to think they held both some truth and logic. From early Greece to 1700 England and 1900 America, adults have repeated the common complaint over youth’s laziness, wild behavior, and disrespectful attitudes.  In America, the…

  • 1910s saw young boys going off to war almost automatically.
  • 1920s had an abundance and affluence that caused youth to step out of tradition, especially women who rebelled by cutting morals and hair length by half.
  • 1930s, with futures destroyed by a depressed economy, youth found pennies to buy a movie ticket, to escape for two hours the hunger and despair all around them.
  • 1940s needed teens again to go off to war. This time upon return, they received a college education as a reward for doing so.
  • 1950s brought back widespread prosperity. Still teens felt fear when they lined up for atomic bomb school drills.
  • 1960s changed teen and young adult life way beyond previous eras. Rebellious groups, disenchanted with middle-class rules and values, beckoned naïve youth by false promises of sexual and lifestyle freedom. However, their protests lacked the purity of the concurrent civil rights movement.
  • 1970s built a stronghold of drugs and disorder for teens and young adults. School curricula tried to undo centuries of racial unfairness but in so doing, skewed history itself. Government programs popped up to treat drug addition, generational poverty, teenage pregnancy, and cultural deprivation. Social agencies geared up for a very sick society.
  • 1980s, gave a momentary reprieve with an artificial joy seen in prosperity and disco, sending rebellion/negative elements underground.
  • 1990s saw the Cold War end, yet American integrity began to shatter. Drugs, disease, and discouragement seemed to dominate youth culture even more than in the past.
  • 21st century has dealt an uncertainty of a long recession and an radical enemy of jihad.

Having now lived many decades as an empirical not scientific observer, I believe something unique did hit our land in the 1960s, a time when I was personally right in the midst of it all and felt something disproportionate affecting our nation, a bitter flavor that still remains in our palate. For that reason, I purposely chose that tumultuous era to set The Picaresque of Ímagine Purple mystery series,

In conclusion, I believe contemporary teens lead no better or worst lives than generations before them. Each person must prepare for the circumstances facing his contemporaries. So lessons in life need as much study as academic ones. If truth be told, most of us wanted to grow up fast and get on with life until we realized that adulthood brought duties, responsibilities, and privileges for which we still needed parents, teachers, and mentors to groom us.

So what delays the natural progression to adulthood? Perhaps discouraging world news signals teens and college students to reject growing up… to hide from the inevitable. Perhaps they have yet to grasp that real adults do not want to stunt the maturing process because nothing is more uncomfortable than a 35 year-old suckling. Still, I see signs of reluctance in youth to embrace the future.

No matter how many articles I read that agree or disagree with my ideas, youth does seem less able to cope without multiple-crutches (i.e. escape movies, ear numbing music, casual drug use, binge drinking, risky hook-ups, idle texting, unsafe media posting). The constant bombardment on their nervous system may have a deleterious effect, eventually. (I’ll report later on what I glean from the books above mentioned).

Call me old-fashioned; but I do wonder if parents and teachers will at some point grow strong enough to seize their authority and declare to their charges, “Enough already! Go read a classic.” At the same time I know how much our young people need encouragement; so I believe we must also say: “We believe in you and your ability to follow the highest thoughts and to reject  the nasty, debased, and empty words of our current parlance. Phrases such as “OMG, uh-uh, like… you know, I mean uh, awesome, so cool” and the typical 300 words spoken daily, will never meet the analytical requirements for a college report.  Therefore, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers (Ephesians 6:29 KJV).

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