The dark YA fiction debate hit NPR this morning with YA author Maureen Johnson and WSJ contributor Meghan Cox Gurdon, and you can listen to the interview here. I'm so close to this issue that it's difficult to address it with any kind of objectivity, but here's my attempt at a reasonable conclusion.
The majority of my friends are now parents of young children. They rejoice in hearing the sound of their baby laughing, they long for the weekend when they can run and play with their children, they seek out tender moments to kiss chubby cheeks and feel tiny arms wrapped around their necks. They want to read their children books that make bedtime rituals sweetly comforting and curling up together on the couch an exercise in delight. The books they read to their children sets the atmosphere of their home.
Yet sharing tender moments gets more complicated as children get older. The teen years are volatile at best, but young minds are still easily influenced by their surroundings. During my teen years, I didn't feel like anyone understood what I was going through. Though I had a loving family and good home life, loneliness and self-doubt isolated me from the support that I didn't understand how to access. So I turned to books. Through words on pages, I felt compassion and understanding. No matter what happened to me or how depressed I felt, books helped me understand I was never alone.
But no matter how hard we try to justify what we write and read, we can't ignore the facts. Books are just one type of media that influences the way we think and how we view the world. Media can and does desensitizes us to the beauty of loving sexual relationships and makes violence commonplace. It makes us overly critical about physical appearance and gives us unrealistic expectations for relationships. We welcome it into our homes through television and allow it to permeate our lives with advertising.
We can't escape the influence of media, but we can teach our children to make choices for themselves. Exposing teens to a wide verity of media (both positive and negative) and then talking about the things they see/hear/experience improves their lives as well as our own. It makes us more accepting, and it means we are better able to face challenges. If we utilize the teaching opportunities that are placed before us, we don't need to worry so much about what our children are reading because we can trust they'll make good choices.
No matter how hard you try, you'll never be able to protect your children from everything. So why not give them the tools to protect themselves?