Books, kids and sex

It's wrong for books targeted at kids to be full of underage kids drinking to get drunk, sex between people that don't care for each other and kids using drugs. I don't have a problem with kids reading books that contain those things, but I think books targeted at kids have to take into account how influential they are and they have a social responsibility to use that influence for good.

I've been actively looking for book suggestions for a 12 year old that really liked Stephenie Meyer's books, so this weekend I was thinking about kids as I read Vampire Academy. While I enjoyed the book, I would not recommend the book to a 12 year old. And I was pretty upset that the book is targeted at kids. It's a book about teenagers and the reading level is marked "Young Adult". And it has drunken underage parties and sex for favors.

Now the vampire and werewolf genre is full of romance and sex, and although I don't always like that, it doesn't bother me because I can just choose not to read the ones I don't like – like Laurell Hamilton's books, good stories, too much random sex that doesn't further the plot. And I chose to leave them off of my list of recommendations for a 12 year old. And that's all ok.

But to find a book so clearly targeted at kids that contained so much inappropriate sex and alcohol use … I felt like that was irresponsible on the part of the author. (Although I'd feel differently about that if you told me the author is a teenager.) Now I realize that "inappropriate" is highly subjective. I'm not a fan of the way we teach abstinence in schools and others think that is the only right thing. But sex for favors is pretty universally frowned on. And drinking to get drunk, while obviously not a social taboo (at least in the US), is probably not something most parents in today's society would encourage their kids to do.

I'm sure the book with its drink to get drunk parties and sex for favor scenes reflects a reality. But is it a reality the author really wants to encourage to kids? I could understand portraying the reality in a book targeted at parents, so they would know what's going on. And I understand that if the author doesn't portray real teenagers, she'll lose her audience – teenagers. However, I think she could have left out the drinking-to-get-drunk and having-sex-so-guys-will-do-you-a-favor scenes without losing her credibility, audience or story.

Perhaps Richelle Mead feels like she is doing the right thing by showing that the good character waits to have sex but I think she's more likely spreading the word that drinking to get drunk is a fun and cool thing to do.

(And in case you are wondering, I recommended Patricia Briggs, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, Orson Scott Card, Robert Jordan and Diane Duane.)

10 Replies to “Books, kids and sex”

  1. Try The Saga of Darren Shan, by..err, Darren Shan himself 😀
    It’s a vampire story, but no sex. There is a very small hint of romance, but it remains chaste. There is a fair amount of gore described in the book, but bearable, and overall quite entertaining. No drink either.
    I haven’t read Twilight, but this should be good either way. Or else, try and get the kids into Lord of the Rings..

  2. Why not just pick up some classics? Books like “The Scarlet Pimpernel” (Baroness Orczy), “The Last of the Mohicans” (James F. Cooper), “Around the World in 80 days” (Julius Verne), etc. These do not often contain inappropriate materials. And are very enjoyable to read and, perhaps, more worthwhile. They became “classics” for a reason!
    I know “classics” are sometimes hard to define… But at least I enjoyed reading those books when I was an adolescent, and I still enjoy reading them. 🙂
    Just my two cents…

  3. Your daughter is 12? And the book is targeted for “teen” and “young adult”? But 12 is not yet even teen; it most certainly isn’t young adult. Seems you’re looking at books targeted at a different age group altogether. Sounds kind of unfair to criticize the book for not be fit for a 12-year old when it isn’t targeting such a young reader to begin with. Perhaps revisit this book when your daughter’s 16 or so?
    Meanwhile, and this is more of a personal reflection, anyone is inevitably going to encounter casual sex, drug use and drinking, religious fundamentalism, racism and so on at some point in their lives. Most people encounter it at a young age. You can’t really protect anyone from ever doing so. The question then rather becomes in what setting and through what medium they’ll do so.
    And a 13 or 14-year old is going to be receptive to your point of view on it when talking it over in the context of a book; an 18-year old very much less so. That is, unless they’ve encountered it all by themselves, with no context of guidance from you, already at that point.

  4. I’m not a parent, and I haven’t formed a well-defined opinion yet as to what is and isn’t OK for kids of that age to be exposed to. I tend to agree with Janne – you can’t shield children from eventually being exposed to sex, drinking, etc. I’d rather they develop the mental tools to deal with these issues before they encounter it in real life.
    I do wonder though if you apply the same standards for violence as you do for sex and drinking?

  5. It’s a friend’s daughter who is 12.
    I don’t think the book is fit for 16 year olds. It’s not behavior I would encourage in any age and I think kids still in school are more open to influence – that it’s “ok”.
    I know they are exposed to it but being exposed to it and having an adult say it’s ok are two very different things.

  6. I think they need exposure but not the message that it’s ok.
    If anything, I’d say I’m more anti-violence than anti-sex for kids. And it’s not the sex I have a problem with but the sex for favors.

  7. I don’t think I’ve read a single book in which the sex actually furthers the plot. Most often it feels like it was added just to attract readers…
    I also believe that 12 years is young-adult. I read Lord of the Rings at age 10, all of Louis L’Amour’s books and most of Jack London’s before age 12. I even read James Clavells Shogun at age 14. It has more to do with how mature you reading has become than a certain age.
    Many of the books they recommended when I was in school felt too simple and dumbed down. But, like Odd-rationale said, the classics are a good choice when you start to feel that way: they are both engaging, informational and really well written (often without the explicit sex).
    I think the same rationale can be applied to excessive use of violence, alcohol and drug abuse (unless that is a specific theme for the story)…

  8. So I’ve actually read the Vampire Academy books (my wife has basically every vampire book you can imagine floating around the house), and I really liked them. I’m thinking back to the issues your bring up, and trying to imagine what I would consider appropriate for a 12 year old. Considering popular television, I think it’s a safe bet that the kid has been exposed to the idea of drinking for fun and using sex as a casual weapon. So getting that out of the way, there were at least these positive notes on drugs/sex in the Vampire Academy books:
    1) The main character is presented as a partier who reforms in order to protect the people she loves.
    2) There is usually a fair amount of shame associated with being drunk.
    3) The “good” characters are critical of the “bad” characters who trade sex for favors.
    So while the concepts *are* present, I think that in the end a mature and responsible viewpoint is conveyed. But I don’t have kids, so clearly my thinking is a bit different…
    Personally, I’m impressed with the quality of the so-called “young adult” novels I have read in the past year or two. I feel like authors (publishers?) are putting books in that genre because that is the age group that is spending money right now. I’m just glad that kids are interested in reading again.

  9. Think I’ve read at least one book where sex would further the plot, it was “The Day of the Jackal” by Frederick Forsyth. Then again I was young enough back then to not actually suspect it would happen.

  10. I do agree that there’s a message wrapped around the bad behavior. But I still felt like there were scenes that just didn’t need to involve drinking. Like two girls taking a bottle of peach schnapps into the woods – and talking about how it didn’t have much alcohol.
    I also agree that there are a lot of good books in the Young Adult section now – I find myself reading quite a few of them!

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