Young adult authors get a lot of grief for putting their characters into so-called “adult” situations. Often the opinion is that if these characters indulge in such behaviors, it sets a bad example for the young people reading those stories and causes their own experimentation.
I think it’s quite far-fetched to believe that every young person who reads about someone their age being violent, having sex, doing drugs or drinking alcohol will immediately think, “I need to get me some of that.” But when adults attempt to ban books that have such content, that’s exactly what they think will happen.
Out of all of the mood-altering drugs out there, I feel alcohol is the most accessible for young people. Typically, we are exposed to it earlier in life before other drugs and it’s quite pervasive in American culture, so it’s no surprise that it turns up in my young adult fiction.
The reasons for drinking are as diverse as the characters. Some of them try it once and never do it again. Some do it to fit in. Some of them never do it. Some use it to numb themselves. Some do it with the adults in their lives. Sometimes there’s consequences for the behavior. Sometimes there aren’t.
Whether the situations in my stories are implausible or terrible examples is a matter of opinion, but honestly they are only a small representation of what I experienced during my tween and teen years:
- house parties where parents provided the beer and insisted the drinkers sleep over–boys and girls–so no one would drive under the influence
- visiting a friend’s house whose entire family had wine with dinner nearly every night
- Sunday brunches with a friend whose mother introduced us to mimosas , bloody marys and screwdrivers
- adults offering to buy us alcohol in exchange for sexual favors
- classmates who regularly sipped from tiny bottles of liquor in the bathroom between classes
- boyfriends who thought getting drunk was foreplay
I was prepared for those situations because my parents talked to me early and often about alcohol. I’m not sure what would have happened if they had buried their heads in the sand; I guess just hoped that everything would turn out okay.
Ultimately, I write about young people who experience things and as a result no longer see the world the same way. What adults tend to forget–and it’s amazing how fast this happens–is that young people are complex and multi-faceted human beings, not just receptacles for their parents’ DNA and values with some cosmic timer that suddenly goes off one day causing them to magically bloom into adulthood. It’s a gradual transition that we all experience as we grow older. How we come out on the other side depends on a number of factors that I don’t have space to describe here, but that journey can either be helped or hindered by the willingness of the adults in our lives to have those hard conversations.
The fact remains that some young people will consume alcohol. It is real life and not writing it down or avoiding the issue won’t change that.
PowerTalk 21, the national day to speak with kids about alcohol, is April 21st. Please, adults and young people, start talking.