This is a mishmash blog. It started out in my head thinking about books, then went to thinking about parenting, then went to differences in what each person thinks is appropriate and what isn't. So bear with me as we work our way through the tangles together....
I am reading a teen book series right now. It was one that came recommended from three different sites where I have purchased books in the past. It took me a long time to actually buy the first book though. You want to know why? It wasn't that the books were marketed to teens, I have read some very fine books that were geared towards that age group. It was something even worse. The cover. I know...don't judge a book by its cover and all that but these covers are awful! They look like teen harlequin novels. Long flowing locks and dramatic lighting...I just couldn't imagine taking the book up to the counter and checking out without being deathly embarrassed.
The tipping point came when I was looking at them and talking to Brent about how they had been recommended but the cover made me wary and this soft voice from behind me said, "I really like them." I turned around and there was a young teenage girl, wearing glasses, hair in a messy top knot, jeans, hoodie, holding a stack of books she was trying to decide on and I thought...okay, you I will take a recommendation from. I told her, "Alright, I am trusting you," then I picked up the first book. Her smile would have made the whole thing worthwhile even if the book would have sucked.
The books don't suck. They are good enough that I have been back to the bookstore for the next two in the series and it's sort of killing me a little that there are two more out there that I can't read RIGHT NOW and I would guess before the week is out I will have trudged back to the bookstore to pick them up. I want to know what happens with these characters, I am interested in their lives. These are read it in one day books. This is the mark of a good story for me. Now, are they classic literature? No. They are teen romance/action/supernatural stories. But they are well done. Sort of a cross between Harry Potter and Buffy. You might hear teenage Vampires and think Twilight, but the only thing they have in common with that series is the author took some liberties with the Vampire mythology. Took what we all KNOW about Vampires and turned some things around.
These books also have some basic changes in what the teenagers are like and that is what got me thinking about parenting. As the mother of a boy I have obviously never worried about presenting C with strong female role models. It's just not something that I have to worry about. He has me, what more does he need. :-) But I wonder what I would have done if I had been the mother of a daughter instead. The characters in this book series drink underage, they have sex, they break rules. For those not familiar with the Twilight series (where have you been in the Pop Culture world?) they do not. The entire Vampire mythology is tweaked to represent abstinence in that world. Not an entirely bad message for kids right? But I still believe I would be more comfortable with any child of mine reading The Vampire Academy books and taking role model cues from Rose and Lissa than I would any daughter of mine taking cues from Bella.
I read the entire Twilight series, but only because a friend of mine lent me the entire group at one shot. She also is a Pop Culture Book junkie. If the world is talking about a series, you sort of feel like you should read it. Who knows it might just be great right? Look at Harry Potter after all. Excellent series, story telling improved with each book. So this could have been one of those as well. So anyway, I read the first Twilight book and thought...really? Did I really need to read paragraph after paragraph about how perfect Edward was? How gorgeous and perfect and awesome and did I mention perfect he was? Then the series got worse for me. The point where the entire thing went from silly to "Why do you let your daughters read this??" for me was when Edward leaves Bella and she lays down in the forest and doesn't move. Her boyfriend left her and she lays down to die!
The entire series this main character defines herself by the boy she is interested in at the time. She is willing to give up her life, literally, when he leaves her and then again to be with him. She only gets interesting in the last part of the last book where she learns how to fight. I told people after reading the books that my biggest problem with the series was Bella. I didn't like girls like her when I was younger, I don't like women like her now. If you define yourself by your man then who are you? What happens if he leaves? In Bella's case we know, you lay down and prepare to die.
So then we come to Rose and Lissa. Rose wants to be involved with a much too old for her man. The book addresses it, talks about it, explores it and deals with it in a pretty satisfactory way. When you do the math you realized that Lissa lost her virginity at 15 years old. Much too young really. But I am so much more comfortable with the two of them as role models than dear sweet Bella. Why? It's because Rose is a bad-ass. That's part of it. She is training to be a bodyguard. She is tough as nails. She is just as strong, smart, resourceful as any male character and really more than most. Lissa is a force to be reckoned with in a different way. She uses diplomacy, charm and her own magic to make the world around her work. Bottom line for me is that these two female characters that the books center around are making their own choices and the books talk about what that means. Yes, there is boyfriend drama, there is teen angst, but there is more to it than just the boys. Just the clothes. Just the perfectly awesome awesomeness of Edward. So I think I can safely say that if I had had a daughter I would let her read this series and have the conversations with her about drugs, alcohol and sex and those consequences and been much more comfortable than if she had fallen in love with the other and I had to have conversations about defining yourself by a boy.
As the mother of a boy I have had to deal with choice like this, but in different formats. As you all know C wants to design video games. He has wanted to do this since he was very very young. Part and parcel of this is that he plays a lot of video games. He has more systems than I can remember and games on each of them. And we were some of the few parents who actually paid attention to the rating systems on games. The ESRB ranks games based on age appropriateness like the MPAA rates movies. When C was younger he didn't get to play M rated games. He had friends as young as 7 who were playing games rated M. Just didn't happen in our house. As he got older we got a little more lenient. But what that meant is we checked out the game he wanted. Websites, game store employees, friends who had played, we wanted to know why it was rated what it was rated and if we were okay with C being exposed to the game.
Poor kid had to pass two barriers. The sex and violence barriers. Brent was okay with a higher level of violent content than I was and I was okay with a higher level of sexual content than Brent was. So a game had to be okay on violence with me and okay on sex with Brent. Needless to say there were a lot of games that C had to wait longer to play than some of his friends did. But I have never been Johnny's mom so I didn't ever care what Johnny got to do. That's not to say I couldn't be convinced I was wrong.
Bioshock was a game I was NEVER going to allow in my house. I didn't care if he was 18 or 21 he could play it at school, he could play it in his own place but I wouldn't buy it, wouldn't have it under my roof. And then enough people told me that the description of the game wasn't exactly right and that the advances in game play were something he needed to experience and know about if he was going to design games. So I changed my mind. Reluctantly and with much trepidation, but I figured that I had raised him with a pretty strong set of values and this game wasn't going to affect those at all even if it was as bad as I had feared. And he was 17 at the time. Really by that point who you are is pretty set and you just spend the rest of your life refining it.
So as a parent where do you make your decisions on what is and what isn't appropriate? And how do you keep from making the things you don't approve of forbidden fruit to your kids? How do you guide them and bring them up to believe what you believe is right? And that's the answer. You don't. C will have his own beliefs. The best I can do is what I have done. Explain to him why I make the choices I do. Why he couldn't play Blood, Death and Destruction at age 10. Why taking drugs is a bad choice. Why drinking underage is pretty big risk and what all he is putting on the line if he chooses to do it. And then I sit back and watch. Ready with advice if asked (or not asked, who are we kidding?), ready to help if he needs it, and praying that he brings home a Rose or a Lissa not a Bella when the time comes!