I write for children. Not young ones. I write for adolescents that are transitioning from youthful innocence into adulthood. That turbulent stage of life when their questions are almost too disturbing to answer.
When I was 13 I read far beyond my years. Shakespeare intrigued me. I could relate to the deep inner struggles of a suffering Hamlet. The tragedy of Romeo and Juliet pulled at my heartstrings, and Macbeth terrified me, beckoning me to question my own existence. I read dark and stormy stories like The Last of the Mohicans, The Scarlet Letter, The Count of Monte Cristo, Don Juan, and Edgar Allen Poe. Why?
That same question is asked by many parents when they contemplate their own children reading series like The Hunger Games and various zombie invasions and vampire tales.
Why do dark disturbing stories attract youngsters?
My only response is that our young people are looking for answers to the human condition.
Young teenagers are stepping into a world that for them is no longer a My Favorite Pony and Princess Bride bubble. They sense a dark side to existence. Not only do their parents struggle in this world, but now with all the shootings, and the infiltrating of politics into even elementary schools, children refuse to be alienated from the darker side of truth. They not only want to know what life is about, they have a deep inner need to know what they are tackling.
Of course as parents, we expect our children to get a good education and a good job. That should be their primary concern and rightly so.
But there’s more to life. There’s another appetite to feed. At an early age, children question relationships with one another and with their parents. They contemplate world peace or wonder why there are world wars. They struggle with love and hate, they decide their own morality or immorality, and most importantly they meditate on life and death.
Teens need to be assured that they’re going to face darkness. Negative things will happen in their lives. We as adults can’t lie to them because children can sense a lie. Young people know they face an unknown future. Alone. It isn’t news to them. The world appears to crumble all around us. There are no safe bubbles to hide behind anymore.
And yet it is our responsibility, as writers, screenwriters, parents, and citizens to restore hope. No one wants their young people to fall into despair. We must shine a lantern in that dark wilderness, because the light it gives off is what keeps us moving forward.