We all know that the idea of profanity, drugs, sex, alcohol in Young Adult Fiction makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I certainly understand that even though I don’t have children. I understand that reading about teens having sex would feel creepy to some people. I understand that thinking about teens drinking and doing other drugs bothers people, it bothers me. And I know that it annoys adults to hear kids using profanity.
I also understand that all of those things exist in teenager lives. Maybe we don’t want it to, but no matter what age you grew up in, or are growing up now, kids do these things. Yeah, not all kids are drinking or doing drugs or having sex, but they all swear once in a while.
Personally, as a teen in high school, I did not drink or do drugs. No, I’m not lying, I did not do either. That is not to say my friends didn’t. I did have some friends who chose not to, like me, or some that tried something one time and decided they didn’t like it, or didn’t see the big deal so they chose not to do it again.
But in the spirit of honesty, I will tell you that I did have sex as a teen. I had a few boyfriends in high school, but the guy I consider my “high school sweetheart" and I dated for two and a half years and we did have sex. But that was a committed relationship and I am not embarrassed to share that with my readers. Now, knowing that, I can tell you that it is a little weird for me, as an adult, to read about teens getting it on. So I understand why this would bother others, but I don’t think writers should censor their stories because I think that’s part of what the Young Adult genre is about: challenging people’s comfort zones and letting teens know they aren’t alone in their experiences.
Obviously, drugs, sex and alcohol are the big three, but you would be amazed how offended people get about profanity. In my Young Adult series my characters start out at 16 and 17 years old in their junior year in high school and when the series ends they’ll all be 18 and older. All of them are romantically involved with other characters, sexually active, and they all swear occasionally. And believe it or not, I have had more comments about their swearing than the fact that they are sexually active.
I swear a lot in real life. And I do mean a lot. I know I do, I know I should make an effort to try to swear less, but there you have it. But I’ll tell you something, I have never heard more profanity in my life than I did while in high school. Teens swear. A LOT. This may come as a surprise to some of you, but my characters in my books swear a lot LESS than my friends and I did in high school.
And our language had nothing to do with our intelligence. I was friends with our Valedictorian. My best friend and I were in Honors and Advance Placement classes (not math and science though, ugh). A lot of my close friends weren’t in Honors and AP classes. My family didn’t have a lot of money, but I had friends whose families did have a lot of money. None of that mattered. We used profanity in every day conversation, angry or not.
I was very, very lucky to go on a trip just before my junior year to France with my French teacher and a group of 19 other students. Now this was in the summer of 1998 so cell phones were still new, people still used pagers and you had to use an actual video camera to shoot videos. One of the girls on the trip brought one of these antiquated things with her and tried to shoot video of the bus tours we went on and didn’t play the footage back to review it before she went home and played it for her family. Remember, I said she videoed our bus tours, so the camera picked up all the conversations around her and she came back to school and told us all how embarrassed she was to play the video for her parents, grandparents and aunts and uncles and small siblings and cousins. Why was she embarrassed? Because everyone, including her, was swearing constantly in their conversations. She had to just mute the video in order to watch it.
So, yeah, teens swear. A lot. So I can’t write an entire novel, let alone a series, full of teens and have them never ever swear. If it bothers you, then I recommend you start reading a different genre, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find any book where they don’t swear, even if it’s just slang, because sometimes that’s meant to be swear words in disguise. Maybe middle-grade would be best?