Response to “You’re Not the Boss of Me”

This blog post by Michelle Zink, author of Prophecy of the Sisters, was tweeted by a book reviewing friend of mine (if you read this, you know who you are :)). (WARNING: There is strong language both in the post and comments. You’ve been fairly warned. And I’m starting to feel like a heathen since the recent links I’ve posted I’ve had to warn you about strong language. :P) When I first read it, I couldn’t say that I agreed, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I disagreed with either. So I thought it through for a few days and decided to make a blog post on it. So, without further ado, a response to “You’re Not the Boss of Me”. (Yes, I edited the blog post when c&p’d it. :))

“What would you do if a friend’s parent told you not to read a specific book?”

This was the question posed by Ellen Hopkins to a table of teenagers at the 2009 Anderson’s YA Conference.

And yeah. I know that was back in September. But the thing is, the issue of “appropriate” content keeps coming up as it relates to Ellen’s work. Some school districts and libraries are canceling her scheduled visits because certain groups of parent’s don’t want their kids to be privy to the subject matter of Ellen’s books.

This occurred back in September in Norman, OK. and more recently in Leroy, NY. In the case of Norman, Ellen had what I thought was a reasonable suggestion in response to one parent’s concern; allow the kids and their parents to opt out of the presentation if they so chose. But that wasn’t good enough, this parent replied.

“I don’t want ANY of the kids to hear Ellen speak.”

Okay, I’m sorry, but if I’m an atheist and I want my kids to go to an atheist conference, I should be allowed to. And if I’m a Christian (which I am, incidentally) I want to be allowed to send my kids to a Christian conference. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech is what this country is noted for. No one is forcing any of these kids to go to this conference. If these kids are hiding the content of these books from their parents, there’s far more to the story than keeping kids from hearing language or learning about certain topics. If they can’t be open with their parents about this stuff, the relationship needs repairing and that’s not going to happen by stricter rules about what kids, especially teenagers, are reading.

I’m sorry, but WT*? I’m not saying each parent doesn’t have a right to choose for THEIR child. I’m saying I have a problem with someone ELSE’S parent choosing for my child. And while there are those who think it makes sense, i.e. “We don’t want our kids exposed to the realities of the world until later,” (more on that further down), what if it were a group of parents forcing you to listen a presentation on White Supremacy? Holocaust denial?

Well, that’s crazy talk, right? Who would advocate that? Who would APPROVE of it?

But the principle’s the same; one or two parents (or even a group! he**, who cares how many?) deciding what YOU, as a teenager, can read. Now you’re OWN parent obviously has some rights there, but that’s a whole other situation, isn’t it?

Would you let your friend’s parent tell you how to dress? How to speak? How to write your name? How to wear your hair?

Knowing the teenagers I know, I think not.

How is this any different? And this isn’t a rhetorical question here. Everyone who knows me knows that I LOVE teenagers. I adore your enthusiasm and passion for life and belief that anything is possible, and I learn from you guys every day. So, I’m really asking; How is allowing someone else’s parent to tell you what to read or listen to any different than allowing them to make other decisions on your behalf?

And if it’s not, why aren’t more parents – and teens, because you guys have a responsibility here, too, right? – speaking out against this kind of censorship?

Seriously, what I’d like to know is if these same teenagers have a problem with peers telling them what to read/what not to read, what to listen to/wear, etc. Some do, I’m sure. The stubborn ones with no friends. But everyone knows that teens often listen to their friends’ opinions. When my best friend tells me I have to read a book, I will. If the same friend tells me not to read a book because it’s really, truly not worth my time, I’ll listen to her. And I’m fairly certain it’s the same way for most others too. We take peer reviews into high consideration. But if a parent says it, by all means, rebellion is normal and acceptable. That’s part of my problem with this. 😉

Let’s put aside the fact that Ellen is the sincerest, hardest-working advocate for teens that I know. Let’s put aside the fact that she works tirelessly to get the word out to young people about the decisions they make now that can affect the rest of their lives.

In books like Crank, Glass, Impulse, and Tricks, Ellen writes about controversial subjects. Depression. Suicide. Drug abuse. Teen prostitution. I get that this makes some people uncomfortable. But do they think by ignoring it, you guys won’t be exposed to it? Are we REALLY at a place where we’re going to blackball a book (as one reviewer did after admitted to “skimming” Ellen’s book – I guess we’re past the days of actually reading a book before reviewing it) because of how many times it uses the word “f***”?

Seriously?

Have these people ever ridden a middle- or high-school bus? Do they think you haven’t heard the word “f***” – DON’T hear the word “f***” on a daily basis? It’s just a word people. Don’t give it more power than it really has.

What gets a movie the R rating again? How many times the f-bomb is dropped. Just because “everyone uses it” doesn’t mean that it’s really a commendable thing to do. If it were my way, which it’s not, using the f-word would be something only very crass, very bad people did. I know that’s an old-fashioned, idealist way to think, but I’m sorry, using a cuss word in every single sentence isn’t a very good way to sound intelligent. Instead, it kind of proves you have no imagination. Can’t think of a better word than that? Seriously, you’re not any more original than the next average kid.

Or I guess maybe these same parents think these things only happen to “some” families. You know the ones – the one’s with… “issues”. Riiiiight. News flash! EVERYONE has problems. Even those of us who strive to be perfect parents, who put the needs of our children above all else, who are paying attention and talking to our kids about everything under the sun, well… guess what? We have problems, too. Our kids struggle and make bad decisions and make HUGE mistakes, too. They need to hear about this stuff as much as anybody else.

Very true. I agree.

And doesn’t it matter that we have writers like Ellen who are speaking your language? That BECAUSE she’s speaking your language, you can more easily relate to the important, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching decisions teens face today? That because she’s speaking your language you feel like you’re hearing it from someone who KNOWS, not someone who’s just read about it in the newspaper and wants to feed you a campaign slogan like “Just Say No”? Doesn’t it matter that having writers like Ellen speak to you EARLY might save some of you from catastrophic decisions that will impact the rest of your life? And that Ellen does in it such a way that it stays with you, so that maybe, just maybe, when you’re at a party and someone offers your drugs, you WILL say no.

Not because you’re SUPPOSED to “Just Say No”, but because you have had a real and terrifying glimpse into the implications of saying “yes”?

Doesn’t it matter that Ellen can make you feel HOPE, so that the next time you feel full of despair, you might just remember that tomorrow is always a new day? That there’s ALWAYS a second chance for happiness?

These are the things that – as a parent and a writer and human being – weigh heavily on my mind. There are teens out there RIGHT NOW who can be saved by hearing Ellen’s message. They might be sitting next to you in Biology or English or Algebra. And you know what? Some of them aren’t going to get that message because someone ELSE’S parent says they shouldn’t have it.

You know what I think? I think it’s bulls***. And if it’s one thing I’m 100% sure of, it’s that no one can affect change like the young.

So what about you? What do you think? And what are you going to do about it when the opportunity arises?

My solution? You can write about the issues of the youth, without spelling out every little detail. How easy is it to say “Bob swore loudly” rather than “‘Bleep bleep blip bloop!’ shouted Bob”? If a character gets pregnant out of wedlock, most teenagers connect the dots. They don’t need to read erotic scenes to get there. I have fewer problems with alcoholism and drugs, but the details of those aren’t really necessary either. “Why take them out?” this blog post asks, “Why put them in?” is what I’d like to reply. You argue they’re okay to put in because teens hear them everyday, I argue that it’s okay to take them out because they hear them everyday. It’s not like they need the education on the f-word.

I agree, teenagers do need to see how these things destroy their lives. But you can read about the effects without all the trash too.

I’m currently working on a novel/novelette about teenagers and these issues. The blog post inspired me. Teens need something to read that they can identify with without all the gritty, unnecessary details.

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~ by neverxxforsaken on December 10, 2009.

One Response to “Response to “You’re Not the Boss of Me””

  1. This post riled you up a little. The blog does say the visits canceled were with school districts and libraries. I’ve had teachers give me books to read that were depressive or suicidal. My mom was a bit worried when she read them (after I did, because I left them sitting around for a couple days).

    You’re right that the usage of profanity reflects a weak mind. I’m more concerned with how issues are addressed than what issues are. The methods these kids see in public school are even more one-sided and contorted than what they blame on the generation of yesteryear.

    While I don’t want to encourage others to read those erotic scenes in books, something that I find ironic is that several authors spell out every detail of what happens outside of marriage. Once the characters are married, s/he “closes the curtains” and you don’t hear any more of those details. Why do you think they would do that? They’re trying to hook readers through their sexual passions.

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