As a high school teacher, I have been around teenagers for over 13 years. There are hundreds (if not thousands) of teachers/writers just like me out there trying to become published. Some are even getting agents and big publishing deals. The rest are like me...writing. I've been following agents for a couple of years now and there is an overall trend that teens are not depicted as engaging, intelligent individuals. Instead, they are broken, shallow, sex-driven, and lack vocabulary. This makes me incredibly sad, as an educator. At one time, I read an interview where an agent stated that they know teens. They also said that teachers may be around them, but they don't know them. I honestly can't remember where I read this, but it was one of those articles that stuck with me. I pride myself on knowing my students. I listen to them, teach them, and guide them every day. They are far from stupid and heartless.
I was told by an editor that my characters were not real because my teenaged MC loves her parents and misses them when she's not with them. The exact words were, "If you were setting the family to be very unusual, then we needed to know a bit more up-front about why this fifteen or sixteen year old misses her mom after only being two hours away from her (most teenagers wouldn’t!). Why after buying his daughter a brand new computer, the father is not lecturing her about dropping coke on it and the dangers of Facebook! Or why, when she’s just received a brand new computer, her only thought (after mentally detailing her back yard) is to help her parents clear up the house."
As some background, I had a team of teenagers come over and voice my characters. Every single line of dialogue was assessed and reworded to capture real voices. When I got this letter, I was discouraged to say the least, so I went to the experts. I spoke with my classes. My students all agreed that they would miss their parents if they moved two hours away from them. As far as computers, they don't care. I was told that if they had received a new phone, they may have disappeared, but for a laptop, it wasn't a big deal. They knew not to pour/spill drinks on them. As for Facebook? Most are actually more often using Instagram, and their parents don't actually lecture them about safety. That would sound unrealistic.
On top of all of that, many of my students do, in fact, help around the house. Now, I know what many readers will say. "Of course your students told you that." or, "Your students don't represent the masses." This may be somewhat true, but then I polled them about their reading habits. Out of 32 students, only 19 read for fun, and only 17 write for fun. This particular population is incredibly diverse. In fact, it's the most diverse I've ever taught. This includes socioeconomic classes. These kids do represent quite a few different types of kids.
We then had a discussion about vocabulary. I asked what they wanted to read in books? Slang? Poor grammar? Intelligence. The entire class agreed that they thought teens should be depicted as more intelligent than they typically are in books. They are responsible; they are intelligent; they do try to make good decisions. These kids are either college bound or military bound. Very few don't want to continue their education.
I felt inclined to write this post because too many times writers are told that their characters don't sound real. They sound too grown up. And too many books are including teens having sex or only thinking about having sex. Why aren't books depicting the reality? Sure they have problems that would sell books, but why don't these books make them sound more real?
I write for me, and sure I would love to acquire an agent. But if I don't, I will survive. I will know that what I write is inspired by REAL teenagers and doesn't degrade them to be less than they truly are. I pride myself on being real to them. I truly appreciate the thousands of students I have known over the years and all they have taught me. Teenagers are not stupid. They are not pathetic. They are smart, beautiful, goal oriented, and idealistic. They are our future. I will continue to write for them, hoping to inspire them to be the best that they can. I refuse to dumb it down because then, it wouldn't be real.