June 20, 2012

Underage Drinking in Young Adult Book: A Guest Post

Please welcome to Feed My Need, Dana Vicktor!
Dana Vicktor is the senior researcher and writer for duedatecalculator.org. Her most recent accomplishments include graduating from Ohio State University with a degree in communications and sociology. Her current focus for the site involves pregnant women and teenage pregnancy.
Underage Drinking in Young Adult Books

The young adult market has really grown in the last few years and with the increased popularity there has been an increased scrutiny of the behaviors of characters in the stories.

Some young adult authors feel that they have a responsibility to their readers to teach them about the dangerous aspects of being a teenager, while others feel that everything should be a reflection of what their readers are experiencing or what they themselves went through. Underage drinking is one issue that has been addressed in several different ways through young adult literature.

Drinking in Books

Teenage drinking is fairly common in a wide variety of social circles, and it appears in a wide variety of young adult books. You can read about it casually in Sarah Dessen’s books or read about the side effects of it in Leaving Paradise by Simone Elkeles. Both of these authors acknowledge that drinking happens and neither shies away from the negative impact that the drinking may have on their characters. Sarah Dessen has not yet addressed drinking in one of her books as a definitive issue, although several of her books show the fall out that comes after drinking too much. Leaving Paradise is based on something that happens as a result of a drunk driving accident and how it permanently affects the lives of the two main characters in the novel.

What Is the Author’s Responsibility?

Many parents and other adults feel that it is their place to control what their children read and may be up in arms about the inclusion of drinking, drugs or premarital sex in books. They argue that this paints an unrealistic picture of the world that teens experience. However, books provide the perfect place for teenagers to read about the consequences of poor choices and bad behavior. It’s not realistic to assume that teens are not drinking, but if the author can subtly include better choices to go along with the drinking, you may be able to get the message out to teens. For example, several books I have read recently make it a point to have a designated driver at a party or for the teenager to call someone for a ride if they have been drinking. Also while not every drinking experience is going to lead to a negative outcome, it is important to show poor decisions that are made while drinking.

Should This Even Be an Issue?

Teenagers want to read books that they can relate to and drinking does happen on a regular basis at many teenager parties. It is important to look at the entire picture. Should underage drinking be part of the literature in teen books? It definitely has a place since it is part of the culture that currently exists. The same can be said about drugs and sex. Books provide a place for teenagers to think about and process the information separately. Drinking is not going to disappear just because the censors decide to ban all books that casually mention it. So while young adult authors should think about the drinking they are including in the books, it should not be cut out completely. Not every book is going to have teenagers drinking responsibility or should it, but the after math should be real to life both positive and negative aspects.

1 comment:

  1. I think the adults that ar arguing that portraying sex, drugs and drinking in YA books gives teens an "unrealistic picture of the world" are blinded to what is really happening.

    I'm all for using those issues in a healthy way and even using them as lessons (just not overly heavy handed ones) for the teens. I don't think glorifying drinking and drug use is ever okay, but no YA book I've read seems to have done that.

    If you had a book about contemporary teenagers and didn't address any of those issues, it would ring false to most teens.