I’ve been thinking about this post for a long, long time, ever since Kelly @ Stacked‘s post at Huffington Post titled “What Are Grown-ups Afraid of in YA Books?” (I saw it via Liz B.) I kind of put my thoughts on the back burner until this week, when I was doing a Banned Books Week display and I got to thinking about what I read and why I read it, and what my kids read.
I don’t think I’m one of the adults that Kelly talks about, those who read YA to take it away from the kids. I read the books for work, yes, because someone has to weed out the good and the not-so-good, and someone has to be able to recommend to a grandparent a book that their Ranger’s Apprentice-loving grandson will like. But I also read it for personal enjoyment; I have found for years, and continue to find, that some of the best writing and storytelling out there is in the books written for elementary, middle, and high-school-age kids.
But, most importantly, as my oldest has graduated and is leaving, I have realized I am a better parent because I read a lot of middle grade/YA fiction.
1. What I read helps me develop empathy, in general. One of the things that has struck me most about Shannon Hale’s crusade against sexism has been a comment she made in a conversation we had over the Mortal Instruments movie. She said: “I always expect more from those in the arts — those who read or dive into stories — to have the capacity for more empathy.” So, so true. I dislike it when people ask me if I read MG and YA books to weed out ones for my kids. NO. Actually, if there was only one reason I could give a parent to read MG and YA book it would be this: the more you read, the more you will empathize with what your children experience. The same goes for reading books about and by people of color, or nationalities, or disabilities, or GLBTQ. The more you read, the more you can experience the world from differing perspectives. And in this age of widening divisions, any reason for more unity — especially with my own children — is a good one.
Which leads to:
2. It gets me in the head of my teenagers and their friends. One of the keys to empathy is understanding, which is why I value this. Especially when it comes to boys, since I don’t have any. It’s not always a comfortable place for me (no parent of a daughter wants to realize how much boys think about sex, I think), but I feel better not only for knowing on an intellectual level, but for having experienced a boy’s story through his own eyes and to realize that really, deep down, all anyone wants is to be accepted and liked. And that we’re all just humans going through this human experience together.
It also means that:
3. It helps me helps me keep a channel of communication open. Because my only “rule” for reading is that they talk to me when there’s something they don’t understand or are uncomfortable with, I’ve been able to have many conversations with them about lots and lots of issues, from dating and relationships to underage drinking and rape. I’ve been able to help my kids learn to think about characters and people, to put aside snap judgments and to look past those to find acceptance and understanding. In short, because we both read the same books, we’re able to talk about them more, and I’m able to help them find empathy, as well as see consequences to life decisions, both good and bad. But it’s not just the issues.
4. It helps me share their interests and likes. This is not only because I know what they think is “cool”. (Though in our house it’s more nerdy/geeky that reigns supreme.) Because I read what they read, we’re able to share in the experience, fangirling over Hale (well, that’s just me, and they laugh at me) or Percy Jackson (I’m as excited as they are to see Rick Riordan); being excited in the anticipation of the next release, or thrilled at an author event at my bookstore. We have a common ground, my girls and I, and I think our relationship is stronger because of that.
But, perhaps this is the most important one:
5. It allows me to allow my kids space and allows them to make their own decisions and mistakes and shows me what NOT to do. I know this sounds pretty cliche and like something I should be doing anyway, but I’m not sure that this is a natural parenting choice. Most parents — myself included — want to protect their kids, want to make sure they are safe. But, in doing so, the kids aren’t allowed to grow and learn. And, after reading adventure after adventure where the kids are forced to make decisions and mistakes, I have learned that sometimes parents get in the way. And reading about all the missing moms, controlling moms, and flat-out bad moms, I have learned to trust that my daughters’ judgement, while invariably flawed, is valid and that her life is her own. I need to be there as a guide, but not as a controlling force.
So, there you have it. My thoughts. What are yours?