At a recent writers workshop we discussed YA issues, then I spoke to my English class of 16yr. olds and we elaborated and tightened that list. Here are the issues we came up with as important to young adults today.
- Sexuality. This is a biggie. As I write this, I hear teen girls in the hall hassling a boy to find out who he 'made-out' with on the weekend. Many teens find this age-bracket very confusing, identifying their own sexuality and what is considered right or wrong by their peers. Some are embarking on their first sexual relationships (whether we want them to or not) and others are terrified about what will be expected from them (this is not just the girls). The students told me they do not like novels that ignore this issue completely.
- Relationships and friendships. Social peers are the most valued relationships at this age (as a mum I want to think that must be a mistake, but sigh, no). Being left out or worse, pushed out of a social group is extremely painful.
- Social power. There are hierarchies within groups for the teen bracket. Those are defined by your social power - how much influence you have over your peers. This can be influenced by sporting achievements, attractiveness and even how powerful you are on Facebook.
- Social responsibility - The kids pleasantly surprised me by rating this as very important. Many teens see it as their responsibility to look out for their mates. This can also mean standing up for the underdog or even standing up against your peers (and risking your social power).
- Bullying - Wow this has evolved over the years. When I was a kid you risked being punched (or worse - spat at) but now the most common risk is via Facebook slandering. I still haven't figured out why kids care so much about what some moron says about them on Facebook, but they do. Must have something to do with that social power hierarchy. One of the issues raised in my writing workshop was the fact that kids are online early in the morning, late at night and via their mobiles during the day (even during class time - grrr). This suggests there is no 'off' time - that people can reach you, and therefore bully you 24/7. At least in my day, when you went home in the afternoon it was all over.
- Risk taking. Drugs, alcohol and misadventure are all playing a part in a lot of teens' lives. Unfortunately they believe that we as adults do not know what we are talking about and feel they are completely safe because they have their mates with them. Planking was a new topic that became an obviously dangerous pastime for students recently.
- Belief system. Teens are coming into an age where they stop taking information provided by adults as being right and start making their own decisions about their belief system. This might manifest in some teens as an interest in or a rebellion against religion, or it might just be their ideas on social justice.
- Freedom. Many teens feel they should be able to go out and explore life, live it the way they want, but due to financial and parental restrictions, they can not. This is quite frustrating (but after suggesting risk-taking as a part of their life, I can understand the parental restrictions!).
- Anger. This has manifested in many teens, most likely due to hormonal changes as well as a desire for freedom but still feeling restrictions from family. In the extreme we have boys and girls lashing out with physical violence or self-harm (such as cutting).
- Multiculturalism. This is a two-sided issue. It's important to teens to have a feeling of assimilation, so this would be heightened for any teen feeling their culture does not fit in with the local teens ideas of what is acceptable. It is also an issue for teens to accept new cultures into their community. This is an issue we are dealing with in class now as prejudice is one of the themes we are exploring.
Some themes will easily link together. In class we are exploring the relationship between prejudice, bravery and growing up. You can always add a theme in the editing stage. If you see one here that you think may be important to a scene in your novel, you can go back and foreshadow it.