Today, I was bringing my kid to preschool and I overheard another mom saying, “I’m in real trouble when she becomes a teen. Seriously.” Her face was full of dread. I thought, oh no, if you’re worried now, just think how that’s going to turn into a full power struggle when your kid reaches that age. You are in trouble, but it’s because of you, not your kid.
I hear negative talk about teens all the time. Just yesterday, in fact, a neighbor was talking to me about his teen and said, “Well, you’re lucky, you’re not there yet.” I told him that I write novels for teens and teach creative writing to teens. I said I love that age. He looked at me like I was out of my mind and then joked, “We’d better have a talk.” He couldn’t imagine loving this time in his kid’s life and it made me sad.
Sometimes when I do a reading or when I tell people what I do, they ask why I write for this age. As if it’s so much more valuable to write for adults. Some young adult writers joke that they never grew up. I do think there is a beauty in staying connected to this age, even as you mature, to remember what it’s like. However, I write for this age because as a writer, you have the greatest impact on a person at this time in their life. The books that I read as a teenager live inside me to this day. If a teen is having a rough time and they read a great book, it might help carry them through. I believe YA fiction does save lives.
High school, for me, was a time of great turmoil. As a result, I have a lot of compassion for kids of this age. At one moment, it’s so incredibly fun and you’re laughing your head off with your friends, and the next moment, you have no friends and you want to die. You don’t know that it will get better. As an adult, I think it’s important to acknowledge how they’re feeling and to love them through this time.
To me, teenagers are so incredibly beautiful because they are both kids and adults at the same time. They can roll around on the ground with their little cousins and make fart noises. Then, in the next minute, they’re discussing the French Revolution and its impact on modern society. They’re dumb and brilliant. They’re naive and wise. They’re nervously polite to someone they admire and snarly and rude to someone they don’t. They’re learning the grays of life, instead of seeing things in black and white. They are on the cutting edge of culture, music and technology. We, as adults, have so much to learn from them.
The best and most rewarding part of working with teens is that when you show them you’re someone they can trust and you really talk to them, they have the most interesting observations about people and life. They open up and show their vulnerability. At that moment, they embody the brilliance of an adult and the magic of a child.
I don’t write for teens because I can’t write for adults. I write for teens because they let me.