This week I turn 37. I don't mention this because I want my house to be filled with flowers and balloons or birthday cards from my followers (but e-mail me if you need contact info to send me something), and I don't want to get into a too-long rant about my age and where has the time gone. (Seriously, where has the time gone???) My point is, I haven't been a teenager for like 18 years, (yikes) so what makes me think I can write about them?
Well, for one thing, I REMEMBER being a teenager (contrary to what my kids think), I have teenagers, and I have a lot of teenagers who I consider to my friends. (Even if that mortifies my own kids.) And I write fiction so I can make stuff up. :)
I've started to wonder if all of that's enough. I mean, after all, I grew up in a different world than what teenagers are living in today, and as much as I want to think I know what's going on in my kids' head, I don't. And I can't make EVERYTHING up.
That leaves me one option--research. But most of the books about teens are written by adults like me, and the world is changing so fast that the research would probably be outdated by the time I read it anyway. So where can I find timely, accurate information about teens, from a "teen" perspective?
Ive tried a few things; listening closely to what my kids are talking about with their friends in the car on the way to whatever, I've even offered to let them have a party, as long as I get to sit in the corner and take notes. (We haven't had many parties at our house lately, hmmm, wonder why.)
Today I stumbled on a tool that I've had for a long time, only I didn't realize until now that it was such a tool. That tool is social networking. (DUH!)
I tweet, I blog (obviously) and I'm on Facebook. Guess what? So are the majority of the teenagers I know. Growing up in a tech-savy world, most teens use this media, and they're pretty open about what they post. I've seen crushes and break-ups and good days and bad days splashed all over Facebook, and commented on. I watched the shock wave of grief spread across the internet after a local high school student was killed in a car accident. The feelings and expressions were real and immediate and, I believe, good for the kids who wanted to share. We didn't have any kind of outlet like that when I was in high school.
This morning I read two blog posts from teen aged friends. The first about crushes and "Puppy Love", made me laugh. (I'm sharing this with permission from the blogger). The second, written by a girl who just found out her step dad has a brain tumor, made me cry. I love both of these girls. I read the posts, not for research, but because I care about what's happening to them. Then I kept reading their posts and I realized that this is a great window into the real world of teenagers.
Does this make me a stalker or a voyeur? Is it unethical if I glean information about the lives and thoughts of today's teenagers by reading their blogs or their tweets, or their Facebook posts?
I don't think so.
Because I do care about these kids. Because they know I'm following them or friending them, and they know that I am an author. Because I feel a responsibility to know my audience as well as I can, so that what I write might be real and mean something to them.
Teens are smart. Their lives are crazy. They don't deserve to be stereotyped or patronized. The deserve (as much as is possible) to be understood.
Does that mean I'm going to plagiarize my teen friends' thoughts, or steal pieces of their lives and publish them under my own name? Of course not. My characters and stories are all made up--put together from bits and pieces gathered from my vast, (37 years), of experience. But if reading blogs or checking Facebook posts, or even taking notes at a party (I would never really do that, I promise), helps my stories or my characters feel more real and helps me be the best Young Adult author I can be, then I think it's a good thing.
(To my teenaged friends, knowing what you do now, feel free to unfriend, unfollow, or block me. Except my own kids, I still control your computer rights. Love you!)
What do you think? Is social networking a valid way to research the lives of teens? Is it wrong to use it this way?