Now, there are many excellent and important YA novels that feature underage drinking. I’m not saying I have a problem with them all. The fact of the matter is there are teens that drink, and teens that don’t. There are those who have no interest in alcohol, and there are those who love it, and there are those that only drink on occasion. I’m not bashing those teens or those books (though you all should know that, according to the CDC, not only does alcohol lower your inhibitions, if you are eighteen or younger, it can stunt growth and sexual development, leave you at a higher risk for assault and suicide, make you five times more likely to develop dependency issues than those over 21, and cause changes in brain development that will affect you for the rest of your lives. Just saying).
My problem with the alcohol in YA is that oftentimes it’s just…there. A protagonist will go hang out with friends, or go to a party, and there will be drinking. It’s mentioned, it happens, someone might get drunk, the protagonist will drink a little, everyone drives home, no big deal.
That kills me.
If alcohol is going to be a factor in novels, especially novels that young, impressionable people will read, why is it being treated lightly? Why does it serve no purpose to the story? Books that treat alcohol like it’s just something teens drink when they are with their friends and parents aren’t around because they are simply bored and it’s not like it’ll ever hurt anyone just rub me wrong. Too many times I see alcohol popping up in the book to make it relatable to teens, not to serve the plot in any way. And not only is that a poor choice and poor writing on the author’s part, it may be damaging to readers.
Think about it: how many of those books we talked about earlier that have drinking portray it as something everyone does, an accessory to a fun party, or something that makes you seem cool and popular? How many of them tell readers some alcohol is helpful, because if you consume just a little, it will make you more confident? How many times do you think those books are being read by teens everywhere? How does that use of alcohol appear to them through their eyes? They see a nice character that they’ve come to like and identify with pick up a beer, drink a little, get buzzed, drive a friend home, or ride with someone who has been drinking. And then, suddenly drinking becomes plausible in their heads. It becomes something that people do when they want to have a good time. It gets easier and easier to ignore the warnings, the hazards, and the consequences.
I would love to think that most teens have good heads on their shoulders, and they are confident in themselves and their own decisions and won’t let themselves be easily swayed by popular media, but as long as we’re being realistic here, a lot of teens aren’t so firm. A lot are easily swayed. If this weren’t the case, the percent of people under 21 who drink wouldn’t be as high as 45% (from the CDC again).
You know, for once I would like to see a character like the teenage boy I saw in a courtroom two years ago, caught for underage drinking, deeply embarrassed and scared to be facing a jury of his peers, knowing that his punishment lay in our hands and knowing that what he did was stupid. Or how about a character who acknowledges that downing that shot at that party to get up the courage to talk to their crush was stupid, because it made them sloppy, not cool and confident. Or, more simply, I would like to see a character say, “No thanks,” to a proffered beer at a party. It doesn’t have to be this huge monumental teaching moment, or an integral lesson in the book. It just has to be proof that 65% of teens aren’t stupid or easily cowed.
Now, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. You don't have to identify yourself, the anonymous button is one. But, where do you stand?