Readin’, Writin’, and…Sex?

Nice article in Salon challenging the “alarmist” findings that over half of young adult novels have sexually explicit content in them — which ranges from Rated G kissing to sexual intercourse. And, according to Salon columnist Tracy Clark-Flory, the study authors seem to find this problematic (note: I was not able to locate the study or even the abstract, so I am commenting on something through hearsay in this post).

I can only scratch my head in wonder over their concerns. Let’s see, what was I reading when I was a young adult? Oh yeah. There was the 1975 classic Forever, by Judy Blume, which told the story of a teen losing her virginity. Tame stuff. Then there were the VC Andrews books that made the rounds in my school — these lovely tales featured sexual exploration among siblings locked in an attic. Finally, there were Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, telling sexual tales of all sorts, including a relationship between two vampires — one of whom was embodied in a 8-year-old girl. While I admittedly have not read many of the young adult novels that are reviewed for this recent study, I cannot imagine the current sexual exploits are more fringe than the ones I read growing up. But correct me if I’m wrong.

And let’s not forget what teens are writing themselves. I wrote this post  sometime back about youth-authored fanfiction. If we shield teens from sexual content, then they are going to just make their own. Or find it somewhere else. So, let’s not be too concerned when a young person buries their nose in a book. At least their vocabulary might increase.

I wanna live forever…

Fame! The biggest priority among youth these days? Take the New York Times article on how some young teens are becoming cultural phenomenon within a matter of days. Or 23-year-old “internet sensation” Dia Frampton, who originally got her fan base through You Tube, but then gained even more popularity by being the runner-up on NBC’s The Voice. I’m sure there are many other examples, but I, alas, am not all that great when it comes to pop-culture savvy.

And then there’s the research. Recent work out of the Children’s Digital Media Center at UCLA finds that “fame” is the number one value conveyed in television shows targeting 9-11 year olds in 2007. This is in sharp contrast to the top value of “community feeling,” which topped the list from 1967 all the way through 2006. And a survey of adults by Dr. Jean Twenge revealed that 10% of young adults (in their 20s) had experienced symptoms of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, as compared to only 3% of Seniors.

So, why all the focus on the self? It’s possible that the simple answer is “because we can.” The internet (especially social networking) can cause an individual to reach a vast number of people exponentially, something that probably couldn’t be done a decade ago, and most certainly was unobtainable a generation ago. Pair that with the normative developmental stage of egocentrism often found in teens and young adults, and their tech-savvy, and the recipe is perfect for this storm.

The question I have is, “is this focus on fame inherently a problem?” Part of me says no, simply because to some extent, as I stated above, such focus on the self is pretty typical of youth. Plus, this focus could help increase self-esteem, sense of well-being, and maybe even a sense of purpose and obligation. For example, 14-year-old Benni Cinkle has used her new-found fame to help non-profit organizations. Where’s the harm in that?

On the other hand, not having such notoriety — despite, perhaps, trying hard to achieve it through a clever blog or video — could backfire on a young person and threaten their sense of self. “After all, if all these peers I hear about on the news can gain such followings, why can’t I?” goes the thought process.

It all comes back to a basic reality: There is always someone out there who is “cooler” than you. They have more friends, a better voice, nicer hair, a more impressive jump shot, a more noble cause. If we can convey that basic fact to youth (and heck, to people of all ages), perhaps there would be less focus on fame. And, it would probably help if the media catering to the tweens didn’t think it was so great, either.

Obsession with the Worst Case Scenario

Great blog post about how the media loves to focus on the scandal and tragedy associated with online interactions, but really, for the most part, youth handle themselves just fine in cyberspace. I LOVE this conclusion by author Elissa Strauss:

“This hysteria about what the web does to teenage sexuality, without any proof beyond a few salacious anecdotes that there is something to fear, sends a bad message to teenagers, and especially the teenage girls among them. It replicates the whole virgin/whore, genie-in-a-bottle notion of sexuality that, once unleashed, cannot be tamed. Where are stories about teenage girls who discover their sexuality but don’t lose control?”

I guess young people acting responsibly doesn’t make for good ratings. Too bad, because I bet there are a lot of them out there.