What do many young adult (YA) books have in common? Angst-y teens, strict rules made for breaking, and rollercoaster love lives.
There’s no doubt about it, being a teenager is rough and parenting one proves just as hard. But if there’s something we can learn from all those teen reads, it’s this:
They want a sense of independence. Teens are at that in-between stage where they’re not quite adults but they aren’t really kids either. They long for the freedom to make their own choices, while still craving the security of home.
Too often, it’s overly harsh rules that push them into trouble, seeking escape and some room to breathe. Parents who won’t loosen their grip can incite rebellion from their kids.
In The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman, Lady Helen Wrexhall is smothered by her overbearing guardians. Their refusal to allow her any personal space or freedom contributes to her dabbling in risky adventures in order to gain some autonomy and embrace her spirit. Granted, the story is set in Victorian-era London when rules were decidedly tougher, especially for girls. But the same notion of rigid rules provoking rebellion still applies in our modern world.
You don’t have to let your kids go completely wild to feel like you’ve avoided some of the parenting fails in YA—but having leniency on a few matters may make it easier for you and your child to find some middle ground.
Their internal lives are complicated. Tumultuous hormones, lust, exploring sexuality and personal identity—your teen is trying to navigate all of this after puberty hit them like a brick wall. And they’re figuring it all out while still keeping up appearances among friends and classmates; trying to fit in, be cool and wondering if that person they’re crushing on in homeroom has even noticed them.
Their internal struggles with identity and love are morphed into fantastical trials through YA literature—facing dragons and demons, rebelling against corrupt governments, starting revolutions, surviving unspeakable horrors, and battling magical beasts.
These adventures and gigantic trials illustrate how big the emotional landscape feels when you’re a teen. YA novels help them feel like they’re not alone through all the chaos that comes along with those messy few years in high school. Hearing stories from people going through something that feels just as big—even if it’s fighting dementors instead of dealing with depression—gives reassurance. ‘I am not alone. Someone else has gone through this too.’ ‘I can survive this.’
If these stories are any indication, teens want to hear that they are not alone, that they have community, and it’s okay to feel how they’re feeling. YA books give them a space to feel validated and understood.
They’re going to make mistakes. It’s trial and error at this stage and everything feels like life or death. The best thing a parent can do is acknowledge the difficulty of adolescence and not trivialize or belittle the experiences that their teens are facing. Just because it doesn’t feel big to you, doesn’t mean it isn’t huge for them.
Being understanding and listening to their struggles will equip kids with the tools necessary to face their dragons and make it out on the other side. They’ll thank you for your attention and respect later on, knowing it was easier to get through those ups and downs with your support and sympathy.
Girls want to feel strong too. Despite all the advancements in equality for women, there’s still an underlying habit of teaching boys to be strong and girls to be polite. But girls want to have adventures and kick ass just as much as anyone else. That’s why they love reading stories that feature strong female leads—protagonists that are brave and loud and full of life.
Encourage assertiveness and confidence in your daughters—they’ll need your support as they enter the battlefield that is high school. Parents have the chance to teach girls how to be supportive of one another instead of vicious. Just because the world teaches us to tear each other down, it doesn’t mean we need to follow that stereotype.
YA novels give girls a community where they’re powerful, their voices are heard and they can be anything they want, even fire-breathing-bitch-queens (re: Aelin Ashryver Galathynius from the Throne of Glass series).
Books don’t have to be the only place girls learn how amazingly powerful they are, they can hear it from the adults in their lives too.
They want to be heard. Remember how, as a teenager, it felt as though no one really understood you? One of the biggest problems between teens and parents in YA is a lack of communication. The teen usually doesn’t feel like they can trust their parents with what they’re going through. And that could be how your kid’s feeling too, even if you are super supportive and a great listener.
In The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, Blue Sargent and her mom are a notable exception. Maura (the mother) has never been particularly strict with her daughter. She taught Blue how to be a good human and trusts that her daughter will do what is in her best interests. Blue was taught that she could share with Maura if she wants to, but she’s also free to keep certain things private. Blue is allowed her autonomy and, because she’s not treated like a problem or handled with kiddie gloves, knows that she will be heard when she speaks.
Creating a dynamic with your child where they can be a regular person who makes mistakes is what leads to a healthy relationship and your teen will feel like as though they can confide in you.
Parents always want to protect their kids and provide them with a good life. Part of that good life is allowing them to be their own people and respecting their thoughts and emotions. If they’re given the opportunity to be open and honest without overly strict reprimand, teens will feel safe to talk about their internal struggles and open up the lines of communication, making it easier for everyone involved.
Young adult fiction is not only a space for teens to feel safe and validated, but also a tool for navigating your kid’s emotional landscape and hearing what they most desperately need from you.
As parents, it’s possible to adjust the strategy for interacting with teenagers to accommodate what all these stories are teaching us about the needs and struggles of teens. With a little help from books, some peace may be found between you and your children.
Plus, YA authors know a thing or two about epic adventures. You may even find your self swept up in the rollercoaster life of some kickass protagonist who’s battling horrendous immortal faeries (re: A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas—seriously worth checking out).