My back hurts and I really need the kids to get off of my lawn.
Not really. My back rarely, if ever, hurts and I don’t care if you’re on my lawn–as long as you don’t bother me.
But seriously, who wants kids on their lawn? Well, kids that don’t belong to them, I mean.
Actually, I don’t mind kids on my lawn. My husband has a different opinion, but I love seeing kids being kids and playing outside. Hopefully, that doesn’t make me sound creepy.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my decision to mostly leave the young adult world behind. Maybe part of my decision to walk away was the feeling that maybe I’ve “aged out” of writing about the teen experience?
I’m thirty. Do I remember and understand what it was like to be a teenager still? Have I gotten old and jaded and focused on matters of more importance? Have I forgotten what it was like to experience first love, first infatuation, the longing for more to life that only youth can rile up in a person’s gut?
I don’t think so, but that’s neither here nor there.
I feel that I’m still closely connected to that youthful part of me that reminds me of how exciting life can be. Each morning I wake up wondering what the day will bring.
In an exciting way. Not with dread.
Each day I still feel the wonder of how amazing life can be. How we can begin in one place and end up in a totally different, unexpected place. I still get excited each morning, wondering if I’ll try new food, make a new friend, or have a new experience.
Life is beautiful and amazing and exciting and confusing and sad and happy and…everything.
Life is everything.
Every day is a new possibility–a surprise waiting around each corner. One event after another, waiting for you to show up and discover and participate.
I love life. Maybe more than when I was a teenager. Actually, definitely more than when I was a teenager.
However, one thing I have to admit as an adult–and looking back on my teen years–is that nothing is as important as we think it is when we are young. Neither is it not as important as we think it is when we are young.
Everything is a major event when you are young and new to the world. Every little thing is earth-shattering when you’re a kid.
When we become adults, we tend to mock this phenomenon.
Kids are so dramatic.
You don’t know real struggle, kid!
THAT THING THAT HAPPENS TO YOU WON’T MATTER WHEN YOU GET OLDER!
But…it does matter. Everything that happens to us when we are kids is important.
One of the ways that I think a lot of writers fail to fully capture the child/teen experience is that they write them as frivolous, overly dramatic, overly emotional…titbags?
That’s how we treat teens. Like titbags.
While it’s true that people tend to be more emotional and feel things more deeply–express themselves more effusively–when they are young, it doesn’t mean those feelings aren’t valid. Or genuine. Or that they don’t matter.
When you’re a kid, being a kid is your job. It’s your life. Why wouldn’t the things that happen to us carry a grave weight?
Presently–and for many years–the world has been coming to terms more with how the things that happen to children have a significant impact on their adult life. The traumas, the successes and failures, the happiness, the stability, sexual awakening, friendships–it all matters greatly in our journey towards adulthood. It informs what our entire adulthood might be.
When writing about it, a bit of gravitas is important.
Writing flippantly about what it’s like to be a teen is a trap into which many a writer falls. Portraying teenagers as whiny titbags who get upset over “the tiniest little thing” is how many writers like to portray these smaller, younger humans. Writers tend to be grumpy old men, even if they exclusively write young adult.
You know, maybe it wasn’t earth-shattering that when I was a teenager we couldn’t afford to go see a movie 99% of the time. Or at times that a full plate of food was like Christmas and my birthday wrapped into one.
Maybe it didn’t matter to anyone except me that a certain boy in my classes was the cutest, nicest person ever and I wanted to hold his hand (among other things).
However, it meant something to me. It was my life. It was my world.
It deserves dignity and reverence. Because it was part of my human experience.
Even when writing about people who do not exist, the experiences written about deserve the same. Because someone reading about those experiences might (probably) be experiencing the same things.
They deserve to have dignity. They deserve to have their human experience treated with reverence.
So…I think that is something I can still do. I know I can.
But I don’t want to do it anymore. I’ve told those stories. And I think–regardless of what people might think of the stories as a whole–it can’t be said that I didn’t treat my characters with respect, dignity, or that I didn’t have reverence for them and their human experience.
I wish more writers understood that teenagers are adults with rawer emotions. They feel deeply. They care deeply. They love profoundly. They hate irrationally. They obsess to no end.
But it all matters. It’s all genuine. It’s all human.
The age of the character shouldn’t change how we treat them with our written words.
Treat your young characters how you would want someone to write about your younger self.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,