Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Inappropriate content

What classifies as age appropriate?

I may not be a teenager anymore, but I remember the key events in my life - first kiss, first boyfriend, first love. The first time I picked up an "inappropriate" book. 

It was called Christina's Treasure. I have no idea who wrote it, and I don't remember where my friend and I found it, but I do recall the two of us reading it in the shadows and gasping at the "graphic"sex scenes. The book was well worn, spine cracked and pages furled. And the author introduced me to words that still make me blush.

Back then, I'm not sure where the book would have fit in the market. But I do know teenagers wouldn't be reading it "in the shadows" today and the scenes I found so graphic would seem tame compared to what you'll find in the book stores now.

As an author who wants to write everything from romance and erotica to thriller and young adult, I'm struggling with my now old fashioned views on what's age appropriate and what deems me a prude. As a new stepmom, that struggle is amplified.

My 13-year-old stepdaughter hates that I won't let her watch True Blood, and rolls her eyes when we discuss "dating" rules. She huffs at me when I suggest she show less cleavage, and pouts when I ask her to delete photographs that have undertones of sensuality.

And as I scroll through her friends' pictures, my helpful teenager shows me the "bra" shots, the excessive make-up, the short skirts, the pouty lips, and then the colourful comments on each image. I don't remember when I first used the word "sexy" (or rather sexii), but I'm confident it wasn't at 13. 

My throat catches when I read out loud to my teen Bella and Edward's first sexual encounter. Feathers are flying, I think. Was my first time like that?

I spent a good portion of my writing life shying away from taboo topics - what if my mother saw what I wrote? But now, taboo is in. Sex continues to sell. Controversial books of yesterday pale in comparison to what the kids pick up now. Drugs. Alcohol. Pregnancy. Homosexuality. Kids are reading about these issues today.

I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. (But would now concur that even as Willie Wonka, Johnny Depp is sexii <3)

My teenager will still watch the Wizard of Oz with me. But at the end of the movie, she'll take the Yellow Brick Road off the beaten path, and suddenly, we're not in Kansas anymore. 

So where are we?

As an author who must meet the wants and needs of an evolving publishing industry, it's important for me to find out. As a stepmom who wants to arm her teen with solid decision-making tools, it's more than important - it's vital. 


  1. Yes, things have gotten far more explicit than when we were kids. But whenever I have the tendency to panic, I remember what a thirteen-year-old would have faced only a few hundred years ago.

    They would almost certainly have witnessed death - either a parent's, a sibling's, or a peer's. They would be only a year or two away from some ceremony to mark their induction into manhood or womanhood. They would have been intimately familiar with all aspects of sexuality - menstruation, conception, childbirth. Outside of our little Western bubble, these things would be true of many teenagers even today.

    Now publishing... That's a different matter.

    Speaking as a parent, my policy has always been to meet the child where they're at and steer them to be the kind of person they want to become. Not at fourteen, but at forty. In other words, good luck. :)

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