Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Are Bella and Edward LITERALLY Warping Your Adolescent's Brain?

I found an interesting article in The Washington Post this weekend about a conference at Cambridge University that discussed whether the current trend towards darker themes in youth literature is actually changing teenagers' brains.  You can read it here:

This was particularly interesting to me because we have just completed a summer reading program where we read children's literature from the past 50 years in a decade-by-decade sequence.  We noticed how themes, topics, the way various ethnicities or disabilities were depicted, even the art styles, changed between 1960 and 2010.   But I, at least, never considered that the increased violence and adult themes in contemporary young adult literature might be physically altering brain development.

As one of my friends pointed out, classic literature that has been assigned reading for tweens and teens have all kinds of dark themes--murder, war, rape, etc.  But I think they are distinguishing here between "adult" literature--the assigned readings that remain a more intellectual occupation--to contemporary literature that adolescents read on their own with their peers and take in more emotionally as a guide for how they are supposed to be acting/thinking/feeling/dressing, etc.  

So, to look back at the 1960's, young adolescent girls wanted to be like Nancy Drew--smart, conservative, popular, somewhat of a risk-taker...She is an investigative heroine figure, but she also engages in idealized "normal" teenager behavior--has a nice boyfriend (although there is no sexual content at all, of course), dresses properly, does well in school (and uses her intelligence to solve mysteries), drives a red sports car.   Certainly a different role model than Bella, who is a depressed, obsessive, and much more romantic/sexual figure.  Same thing with boys with the 60's Hardy Boys or '50's Tom Swift.  Almost all the major characters in tween boy books these days, if they aren't vampires or werewolves or wizards or whatever, are much, MUCH more violent than in earlier eras (and the vampires and wizard and such are being violent as well).

Now I'm not arguing it necessarily changes adolescent brain synapses- I don't know about that one way or another.  But it is interesting to consider.  And it is interesting to note that Cambridge is having a serious conference on it.

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