My 13-year old daughter got sick recently and the only books she could tolerate were from a series called Gossip Girl. Basically, the books are chick-lit for the young teen crowd and they are as trashy as can be. The stories center around an exclusive upper East Side Manhattan school where all the parents are rich, all the girls are beautiful and have bottomless charge cards, and all the boys are horny.
I wasn’t too worried that my daughter was reading such trash, because she regularly picks up other novels that are meatier and better written. Perhaps I was being clueless, however. A friend of mine with another 13-year old girl told me she had forbidden her daughter from reading Gossip Girl. She felt the books glorified drugs and casual sex, and was afraid her daughter would be more inclined to dabble in those activities after reading the series.
She is not alone in her worries. The Wall Street Journal has an interesting article about the tarting up of young adult fiction and the quandaries it brings.
“It's the summer book season: Do you know what your child is reading? To appeal to teens brought up on suggestive music videos and cable-TV shows, publishers are releasing more books full of mature themes and unflinching portrayals of sexual activity, with young protagonists the same age as their target readers. One publisher is venturing beyond its titles on dragons and bunnies with "Claiming Georgia Tate," about a 12-year-old girl whose father pressures her into a sexual relationship and makes her dress like a prostitute. In "Looking for Alaska," prep-school students watch pornography and pass the time binge-drinking. Coming this fall is "Teach Me," in which a male high-school teacher has sex with a student.”
Gossip Girl has a large cast of characters and one of them writes an on-line, anonymous advice column. Here's a tidbit:
"D was seen returning a gorgeous Armani tux at Barneys and renting a much less gorgeous one at a formal store. His sister J was seen buying underwear at La Petite Coquette, although she chickened out on the thong. N was seen buying a big bag of pot in Central Park. Tell me something new. B was seen in the J. Sisters salon getting another Brazilian wax. The old one must have started to itch. S was seen with her feet out her bedroom widow, letting her toenails dry. I don't think she's ever spent this much time at home in her entire life. Maybe she should get a cat or something. Meow."
When my kids were younger, the lines were clearer. No sex, no violence. But as my daughters mature, I think they need to know about the wicked world we live in. They need to develop the ability to judge what is right and wrong. Will reading about teens who live in the fast lane make them more likely to live that way or to want to be like that? Or will it make them compare those lifestyles with their own and realize the limitations of excessive consumerism and casual relationships?