Last week, I watched (and participated, I confess) in yet another debate about whether young adult fiction should include things like alcohol and drug use, swearing, and sex. On one side, we had someone who insisted that even adults shouldn’t do those things, and therefore YA fiction shouldn’t include them because it would encourage teens to do them. On the other side, we had authors stating that some teens do have sex, or drink, or use drugs, and a lot of them swear, and it’s our job to depict characters our readers can connect with.
As I’ve said in the past, *personally* I prefer to write stories with no on-page sex, no drinking or drugs or smoking, and as little swearing as possible. That’s my comfort level, and is partly because I know teens in my personal life who don’t engage in those things, who asked me to write characters who didn’t because they were tired of reading about it.
But I also know teens who do drink, or smoke, or use drugs, or have sex, or all of the above. And some of my characters are sexually active and swear like longshoremen, because that’s true to those characters. Even though I’m the creator, when I’m doing my job right, the characters seem as real as someone you might meet walking down the street. And that means sometimes they take over the story, so sometimes they do things I would rather they not do.
In YA, it’s important for teenage readers to be able to see themselves. That means authors might depict behavior they themselves wouldn’t condone, or wouldn’t have engaged in as teens. We aren’t writing to moralize, or educate, or tell teens how they *should* live their lives. We’re writing to entertain, or to show teens that however they are living their lives, they’re not alone and they’re going to be okay.