I’ve come across many posts debating why authors should be allowed to have teen characters in YA books who swear, drink, smoke, do drugs, and are sexually active. I am totally in favor of having teenaged characters who do those stuff, because, well, that’s just plain realistic. However, I do have a problem when it stops being “Some teens do these stuff” and starts becoming “All teens do this stuff!”
Maybe it is true that most teens rebel. I would say that was true for my friends and I. We were growing up and testing the boundaries set by the authority figures in our lives, as well as our own boundaries and limitations. But I think every teen rebels differently. I know there are vast cultural differences between me and the average American teen, especially since I went to an all-girl Catholic school in Singapore, but let’s take a peek at the teenaged cow . . .
I also had many friends, enough such that I rarely spent weekends at home. Here were the four I was closest to:
We all had different personalities and interests, but we were all pretty similar in that we were at the stage where we were getting interested in boys and starting to date and breaking curfews and shit.
We were ranked in the top ten schools in Singapore, a country well-known for its strict education system. Parents vied to get their kids enrolled there. Whenever people recognized our uniform, they’d smile and say, “Ah, you must be such smart girls!”
Brother Cow and his friends were caught smoking in their school’s bathrooms several times, but my friends and I didn’t have an interest in cigarettes. A couple of girls in my year boasted about getting drunk once or twice, but for most of us, alcohol was something that didn’t cross our minds until we were in college. I was not aware of any drug use in my school. Most of us cussed now and again, except for my chef friend, who was (and still is!) staunchly against vulgarity, but the degree to which the rest of us cussed varied widely. The F bomb was used by me and the smart girl quite regularly, for example, but my BFF stuck to words like “damn” and “hell”, whereas the theatre girl would say “Christ!”, which was arguably the most hardcore word out of the list, given we were in a Catholic school.
But we weren’t just geeks who did nothing but behave nicely and study.
Out of the 250 girls in my year, I was aware of 2 who were already sexually active by the age of 16 (such tiltillating gossip it was!). Out of my close group of friends, only my BFF and I had boyfriends, and we went as far as French kissing (oh, the shrieks and giggles from the other girls when we told them about it!). A handful of my schoolmates dated one another, which earned my school the reputation of having “hot lesbians”.
My school had a problem with theft. Cellphones were stolen with a worrying regularity. I was also aware of quite a few of my classmates cheating their way through tests and exams. Someone once wiped menstrual blood all over the bathroom floor (eww. Also, WHYYYY??). Someone else once grafittied one of the classroom walls.
So on the one hand, I was a “good” teen in the sense that I didn’t do drugs, drink, have sex, or flunk any of my classes. On the other hand, if you were to ask my parents, they would shake their heads and tell you they had their hands full with me. Which was true, because I also did all this other shit (and got caught and got in trouble for them, but kept doing them anyway, because REBELLION).
My own parents agonized over my safety when I was accepted to a college in the US. From what little they knew of the States, they had come to the conclusion that American teenagers were all beer-guzzling, weed-smoking, back-of-car-sexing drug addicts. “DO NOT TALK TO THEM, OKAY!!!” they cried as I packed my bags. “ESPECIALLY THE NON-ASIANS.”
I was filled with excitement and fear myself. I had never met an American teen before. Would they see me as an uptight nerd?
As it was, I fit in pretty much right away. And the friends I made were just like the ones back home in how different they all were. I was surprised to learn that not everyone in America became sexually active in high school (in fact, close to half of the friends I made in college were still virgins). I did notice that they dropped F bombs more liberally than my Singaporean friends did and were less competitive with their schoolwork, but other than that, there wasn’t much difference.
So whenever someone says, “All the teenagers in my school are having sex and doing drugs and drinking and swearing!” I always want to go, “Who are these teens you speak of?!”