Let’s face it, teens today can’t see their futures as easy. On top of their everyday pressures — struggling with new feelings for some peers, maintaining grades, exploring their own interests and increasing individuality — they also have to worry about the economy in ways teens just ten years ago didn’t have to. Back then, summer jobs were available, parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles had more established jobs and secure futures. The economy changed all of that in a blink of an eye, and who can say if that level of prosperity will ever come back? Teens are growing up with more uncertainty than ever before.
That uncertainty is playing out through pop culture in many different ways. In the area of books, you might have heard the term “New Adult”. Liz Burns of A Chair, a Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy has a long list of definitions and links to other posts that can give you a rundown of this increasingly popular publishing trend. To quote Liz:
“So, it seems to me that “New Adult” has characters from 18 to 29. It’s people in a time period that is after the perceived safety and narrowness and intimacy of high school — and by intimacy I mean, having a physical place where everyone goes and shares lunch times and has common experiences of classrooms and lunch times. I say perceived, because that’s not always true.”
Liz has an entire series of posts dedicated to New Adult if you are interested in pursuing this topic in more depth. But many books branded as New Adult portray young adults — I would hesitate to classify the characters as teens, even if some of them are eighteen or nineteen years old — and their struggles, but, based solely on the few NA titles I have read, they are most typically located in a college setting. Where are the reflections of experiences of those young adults who do not have the luxury or option of heading to college right after graduation? Or those who might not want to go to college? Where are the characters that haven’t grown up in some kind of middle class background? People of color are also being left out of the New Adult category.
This problem plays out in another pop culture arena, television. In the popular HBO show, Girls, college graduate Hannah Hovarth is finally facing adulthood after her parents stop paying for her rent and other needs. But what kind of adulthood can she have with few job prospects in a tight job market? There is no doubt that this show examines a type of young adulthood specific to a privileged background.
New Girl, Two Broke Girls, Girls, and Comedy Central’s Workaholics all showcase the sometimes aimless and protracted transition into adulthood that is being tackled by young people today. Again, there are definite holes in whose stories are being told and explored. As much as I love pop culture, it is so easy to forget that what has become popular is often overshadowing the experiences of most people. Such is life viewed through media.
So how does this all relate back to teens? In many ways, these are the types of experiences teens may be facing soon. Having to live with parents for a lot longer, putting off that move to total independence in adulthood, struggling finding a job. These images on the screen and in the books that make their way into libraries share only a small and particular portion of the trials today’s teens are facing. But there’s no doubt that young adulthood is quite different in 2013 than it was in 2003 or 1993.
We’re only seeing the beginning of this emerging trend. The success of Girls is spawning new shows and yes, probably more books in the same vein. But they need to move beyond, much as I hate to say it, the middle class, white, early-twenty-something experience. Where can we find resources for authentic range of new young adult experiences? How can librarians better showcase those to the teens they are serving?