There’s a recurring joke in the YA world that all parents in books are either
- A) Dead
- B) nonexistent
- And when they do exist, they’re awful
There honestly is a lack of good parents in YA—a lack, even, of parents at all.
Out of this, a lot of bloggers often call for more good parents in YA. I understand the idea behind this: if reading is supposed to be an escape, then giving young adults a world in which parents are kind and supportive is an important responsibility of YA.
That being said, I also want to see more bad parents in YA.
The point, I think, of having good parents in YA is to give teenagers with awful ones an escape. Those books show teenagers what encouragement and love feels like and gives them positive voices to listen to when the real ones are negative.
However, reading should not just offer an escape from reality, but sometimes confront reality. This reminds people that others have survived what you are living through.
Here is the problem: the same way that YA has basically no parents, it also seems to have only a few types of bad parents. There are the parents who have fallen out of touch with their teens as they grew up, the parents who flat-out ignore their children, the parents who fail to recognize or accept their children for who they are.
But they have one thing in common:
At some point, there is a conversation and/or realization that brings the kid and the parent together, ending in understanding and forgiveness.
That relationship evolution is based in the idea that no parents are so blind or rooted in their beliefs that they could face their child in a moment of honesty and not fix themselves. It is based in the idea that teenagers and parents just don’t “work”—until they have breakfast together, cry it out, and reconnect. It is based in the idea that no parent is unforgivable, unfixable.
I’ve had a lot of friends, with a lot of parents who screwed them up in different ways. Parents who
- Taught their children strict body image ideals that permanently made them to value being skinny over being healthy
- Ignored their child’s depression, even when the child point-blank told them how they felt
- Ignored their child’s attempt to speak about abuse
- Decided their child was a chronic liar instead of listening to them recount problems they faced
- Made their child fear the imperfection of an A- (let alone a B) so palpably that the child chose to value studying over taking care of their physical and emotional well-being
Parents who were more than clueless, more than out of touch. Parents who continued their behavior after confrontation.
Parents who honestly, I won’t forgive.
I am not saying that this applies to every bad parent in YA. They are not all bad in the same way, nor are they all forgiven. They aren’t. But it feels like there is a strong trend in favor of acting like parents making their children feel like shit was just a misunderstanding. And I’m not okay with that.
At best, it isolates teenagers. It takes a story that could be a beacon of hope—this character lived in the same situation but survived like this—and turns it into a “whoops, just kidding, you’re on your own.”
At worst, it gaslights teenagers into blaming themselves for their parents choices by making them believe their parents would be kind if they could just have the right conversation. This might sound like a far-fetched idea, but a lot of the teenagers I know have tried to talk to their parents about their issues, and it didn’t work. Not all of them, of course, but there are more than the two options: silence and forgiveness.
Young adult literature is complex. It cannot be defined by one trend or cliche. It has fluffy romances and heart-wrenching plots in both fantasies and contemporaries. YA has something for everyone to connect to. It gives readers things to laugh about and things to cry about. It helps us escape reality, and it gives us the tools we need to confront reality. The multitudes of YA are what makes it so incredible.
I do not want every book published to have awful parents. I do not want every awful parent to end un-forgiven. What I do want is a YA that presents all types of parents, even the ones we would like to pretend don’t exist.
What do you think? Was this post relatable? Are there any books you can recommend that break the forgiveness model?
3 thoughts on “Discussion Post: Parents in YA”
Oh this post is amazing and I completely agree! It’s nice to have some books in which the parents and kids end up finally understanding each other and repairing their relationship, but that’s not always reality. Many people are set in their ways, and not all parents are good parents who simply had a misunderstanding or who will see the error of their ways. And by never portraying situations with bad parents who stay bad parents, it does alienate teens who are in that situation and make them feel alone and possibly like they’re doing something wrong. And like you said, people like to pretend bad parents don’t exist. They like to believe every parent deep down wants what’s best for their kid. So by making every parent in books turn good at the end, it further enforces that belief instead of confronting reality.
The other issue I have is that whenever an author wants to give someone a tragic backstory involving parents, it’s always physical abuse. There are other types of abuse! Emotional/verbal abuse is also incredibly harmful! And I’m guessing it’s far more common and realistic and relatable.
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I’m glad you connected with this post!
And you are so right. Physical abuse is not the only abuse that exists. Verbal and emotional abuse can do irreparable damage, and some teenagers might not even realize they are facing abuse if books don’t present the realities of verbal abuse and then call it out.
They aren’t teaching this kind of stuff in school (at least not at my school), so it is extra important for me that books marketed to teenagers address the realities teenagers face, even the awful ones.
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