Friday, December 04, 2009

Won't someone please think of the children?

I'm so proud and pleased to live in a world where young girls are never sexually abused.  Where women in high school or middle school aren't raped.  Where teen boys never contemplate suicide (or, heaven forfend, actually attempt and accomplish it).  I'm blessed to live in a world where there's no bullying, no cyberbullying, no eating disorders or emotional abuse.  Where girls don't stick fingers down their throats and slide knives or blades over their skin intentionally.  Where teachers don't sleep with students, where fathers don't sleep with daughters, where no one under consenting age has sex, thinks about sex, comes close to having sex, gets pregnant, gets a disease, has an abortion or has a child when they're still in their tweens.  How lovely that all girls and boys are virgins throughout middle and high school.  That nary a drop of alcohol or a whiff of drugs passes their lips, their noses, their veins.

Surely each child at every school is well loved, well nourished, well cared for.  Well clothed and well mannered with bright futures ahead that don't involve peer pressure and binge drinking and drugs and gangs.

Clearly none of those terrible things ever happens in the lives of REAL teens.  So why would we ever need books about such horrid and odious happenings?  Why would we allow such texts to enter the hallowed halls of our children's schools?  Or, worse, to actually be offered on a list of recommended reading?  Or even more awful to contemplate, used in a classroom?  Forget that such books may have won awards or received starred reviews or been included list after list.  Forget that teens have written to authors in tears, in gratitude, in awe that some of those books have changed their lives.  That some of those books have saved them.

We don't need those books anymore!  Therefore, we don't need them in our classes, in our schools or in our libraries.  Hasn't anyone ever wondered what would happen if we let our perfect, pure, untouched and untarnished teen minds read such smut?  They might contemplate drugs or sex or suicide.  Clearly, all it would take is one page - one paragraph - of Laurie Halse Anderson's book Wintergirls to change even the healthiest girl anorexic!  No girl today would ever have such thoughts otherwise!

Won't someone please think of the children?  What are we teaching them with these books?

Unless... unless we've somehow failed.  Unless we missed something.  Unless there are teens out there that are in trouble.  That have faced obstacles that their parents don't know about.  Unless there are teens out there with secrets -- secret pains and secret fears -- that they can't take to their mother or father or sister or priest or teacher.  Maybe they're ashamed.  Maybe they're afraid.

Maybe they need to be shown that they're not alone.  That you can survive abuse.  That you can overcome bullying and peer pressure.  That your friends could be facing these issues.  That you can find help.  Or even, what happens when you don't.

Maybe we need to have more faith in teens that reading a book won't brainwash them.  That maybe instead it will expand their horizons.  And maybe as the adults of the world that's our job - to show them the world and be there to answer questions and support them.

I get it.  I understand that its easier to keep teens in the dark.  It's easier to believe that teens aren't dealing with these difficult issues.  What parents want to introduce their precious child to all the bad things in this world?  What father wants to explain what rape is?

But I need to make this clear, and this comes from my experience and from my friends experiences and from the teens I've talked to: this stuff happens.  And it happens to teens and tweens far younger than any of us would ever want to contemplate.  They deal with these issues whether we want them to or not.  This is life and life can really suck and it can be messy and dangerous and sad.  And hiding from it doesn't make it go away.

So whenever someone screams "Won't someone please think of the children" and then they propose banning books or removing them from the classroom or the library, I want to ask them what they think it accomplishes.  Because not talking about the difficult issues in this world doesn't make them not exist.  Not letting teens read about them doesn't mean teens are somehow not going to face them.

We're not protecting anyone by keeping them ignorant.  And banning books or pretending this stuff doesn't happen is the height of ignorance.

Thank you to the authors who write about these difficult topics and to those who fight to keep them in schools.


B Mari Landgrebe said...

You have eloquently said what I've been trying to for so long. I obviously need more work in my writing, but I thank you from the bottom of my heart you wrote this, and wrote this well and clear.

The first book I read that was "hard" was Crank by Ellen Hopkins. My friends were getting into drugs, and I wanted to be cool like them, but hadn't taken the first puff, the first plunge yet. After reading it, a friend offered me a joint - at school, I might add. I punched them out and received a busted lip and three days suspension. They got expelled, jail time, and their parents sent them to military school.

I got the better end of that deal, and I'm proud of it. Things would have been worse if I hadn't read that book. I didn't have a great relationship with my parents as a teen, and as a married woman I'm still developing a closer bond with them. I needed that story, and it helped me more than I could say.

Won't someone please think of the children? I'm glad someone thought of me when I was a child, even if I was one among many.

Pixie said...

*applaud* I will never understands book bans. As a parent, I should decided what is appropriate for my children.

Anonymous said...

*applause* I can think of nothing to add, but agree wholeheartedly.

Tyhitia Green said...

OMG, Carrie. You sound just like me when I met with my Nano group and they suggested I not write this or that.

I was a human services worker. I know all the nitty gritty evil that goes on with children and adults who have mental disabilities/illnesses, etc. I always say that in my writing I am offering social commentary and that folks aren't going to always like that. You know, you're from S.C. too. ;-) I agree, pretending it doesn't exist, certainly does not make it go away. Bravo, well said.

Carrie Ryan said...

Thanks for the comments everyone!

And Brittany, I haven't been able to get your story out of my head - you just so perfectly proved the point I was trying to make in my post: we need these books. Thanks for sharing your story!

Rebecca Herman said...

I do think it is good when parents get involved with what their kids are reading. The problem is when they try and stop what other people's kids read. So I don't think it's the parental concern that's the problem... after all I was one of those kids who would have been too freaked out/upset by certain topics to benefit from reading the book when I was a preteen/young teen... but they shouldn't try to keep other people's kids from reading the book, by trying to get it removed from school.

Laura Ruby said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Laura Ruby said...

Love this post, Carrie! Wondering if you knew and/or were responding to this nonsense about Laurie HA's Twisted --as well as some other books -- pulled from a KY school? Or if you were offering a more general-yet-fabulously-snarky rebuke to those who insist all teens live in Happy Bunny Rainbow Land?

Either way, I like it!

-- Laura

Rebecca Knight said...

"We're not protecting anyone by keeping them ignorant."

This is the crux of it, Carrie :). You are absolutely right.

If our kids are ignorant, they'll only be more confused and afraid when faced with these issues. The issues aren't going to go away, but we can prepare kids for what's out there. Then they can make good decisions on their own. When we're not around.

Brittany--your story is awesome! :) Thanks for sharing!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Lovely post--thank you so much. I'll be sure to pass on the link.

Your friend & fan,

B.E. Sanderson said...

Don't you know, ignorance solves everything? It is bliss, after all. Especially when there are those so much better suited to thinking than everyone else.

Bah. I could hardly type that without making myself nauseous.

Very well said, Carrie. I talk to my teen about everything - even stuff she'd rather I didn't talk to her about. And she reads whatever she wants. If she reads something that makes her uncomfortable or that she doesn't understand, we talk about it. Information and communication are the keys, IMO. Walking around blind to the pitfalls of life are the best way to fall into them.

Sophie Littlefield said...

I add my kudos to everyone else's...having teens myself I can verify that they want and need to consider and learn and discuss the issues that confront them. Even the "nice" kids, the ones whose mothers think their lives are sheltered and perfect.

Chris {frecklemama} said...

So, so super-fabulous.

Lilliam Rivera said...

THANK YOU! I was just having this conversation with my husband who is a High School guidance counselor. When I was young, I wanted to read books that were "real" to me and that reality included violence, cursing, sex... It's not to say I was doing that (maybe the cursing!) but I wanted that option to read it. Great topic!

Donna Gambale said...

Yes! Inclusion is not glorification. Thanks for posting this.

Merc said...

So very, very well-said, Carrie, thank you SO much for this post.

Anonymous said...

Right on Carrie!
Still waiting for dead tossed waves!
i am in SERIOUS need of some more zombie mayhem!
Quick question, but I just read The Zombie Survivial Guide by Max Brooks, and I was wondering if you might have borrowed some of his ideas. (I'm not accusing you of plagirism, It's just the only other zombie book(s)* that i've read.) I hope you can answer this, and if you haven't read any of his work, I highly recommend you do if you are suffering from zombie writers block! =D
-Rachel G. =D

* "World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War" and "The Zombie Survivial Guide: Recorded Attacks" Recorded Attacks is a Manga/comic (but mostly comic like).
Thanks again!

Daisy Whitney said...

This is a brilliant post Carrie! Thanks for writing it.

Mundie Moms said...

I have no idea how I've missed this post until now. It's beautiful! THANK YOU so much for allowing us to run this and for being apart of our Banned Book Week!

Kate Larkindale said...

Fantastic post! Agree 100% with everything you've said.