Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Teens Will One Day Change the World

Last week, I read on io9 about an awesome Twitter trend. It’s called #VeryRealisticYA, and it points out the unrealistic way teens in young adult stories act. Some of the tweets are hilarious, and very spot on. They were fun to read. I laughed.

Young adult stories are often far stretches of the truth, along with a lot of other stories. But that’s the point: stories portray events or characters that don’t actually exist in the real world. They are created to entertain.

Of course the vast majority of teens in the real world aren’t going to act like Katniss or Tris. At one time, I was a teen, and I could barely look beyond the weekend to decide what to do with my life. Why would I even dream about saving the world?

But the point of these stories is to ask the question: what would teens be capable of if they weren’t self-absorbed?

One of the amazing things about teens is that they are an in between group. They are no longer children, but they aren’t yet adults. They are allowed certain freedoms to figure out who they are as a person or who they want to be. They have this freedom to experiment and make mistakes—all in the hope that one day they will become contributing members of society.

What is so fantastic about YA stories is that they propose this idea of who teens can be. They show them that they are capable of great and wonderful things. They show that they can change the world. They show that there is a larger world out there—and if they want to make an impact in it, they can. They are supposed to be inspiring.

More often than not, the reason we tell stories is to teach some kind of lesson. Fairy tales and children’s stories are notorious for teaching children how to share or what happens when they don’t follow the rules. It’s a way for society to pass their values and morals down in an entertaining fashion. Children don’t want to be lectured day in and day out, but if the lesson is fun and exciting, maybe a little surreal, kids are going to listen.

The same thing with adults. Life is hard. The world can be a cruel place. But stories allow us to escape and follow a character that is having a more difficult time than we are. And when that character overcomes those ordeals, we cheer her on and realize that maybe our lives aren’t that terrible or it gives us hope that we can also overcome hardships.

Teens are looking for the same kind of escape. They want to go to a place where they get to make up the rules and where they are in charge.

The vast majority of YA stories that are popular now are dystopian. They look at how the world has been destroyed and how it is rebuilding to be “better.” More often than not, there is a corrupt government that has to be taken down. And who is in charge of this government? Adults. All the other adults in the story are usually complacent and happy with the world they live in, it’s all they’ve know, but the teens refuse to follow the crowd. They question the status quo. They refuse to be mediocre.

What these stories do is take what happens in teens’ everyday lives and magnifies it. They are a reflection of society told metaphorically. Think about it. What is the biggest complaint you had as a teen? For me, it was that my parents controlled my life. They wouldn’t allow me to do what I wanted to do. I had to follow their rules when I lived in their house, so I rebelled against them. The teens in these stories aren’t doing anything different. They’re rebelling against the authority figure. They’re just doing it on a grander scale than a real-world teen.

Most teens aren’t on the streets with guns taking down the government, but they are staging protests. They are speaking out for their rights and making stands against injustice. They are changing the world, but in a quieter fashion than what these movies portray. Sure, the stories are incredibly grandiose and over the top—the complete opposite of reality—but that’s the point.  That’s what makes them entertaining.

I appreciate that YA novels portray teens in a way that isn’t typical of the real world. I enjoy that they are strong and overcome adversity. It gives teens something to aspire to. It reminds them that no matter what the world says, they are capable of great things. They just have to go out and get it.

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