So, I was driving to pick my kids up from swimming recently at the high school and I drove past some boys’ high school team or other working out—shirtless. And I noticed something. These boys had abs and like seriously muscular physiques.
Now before you start to think I was being weirdly creepy or something, I just drove by (with a slight stop at a stop sign—it’s not like I stopped to goggle at them), but it was sort of hard to miss when a whole mob of shirtless boys was standing right next to my car.
But it got me thinking: How many times have I sort of chuckled at the YA trope of the high school boy with the perfect body? I mean, these aren’t the boys I remember from when I was in high school. Now, I wasn’t really hanging out with any of the athletes when I was a teenager. And, obviously, these kids I saw aren’t representative of today’s teen boys in general—I still see plenty of awkward, gangly kids out there (thank goodness!)—but the trope that I’ve rolled my eyes at really does exist out in the wild, and maybe it’s not even as uncommon as I imagined.
Maybe that trope of the “perfect” YA hero isn’t as crazy nowadays as it once was? But why is that? And what does it tell us about the pressures our teens are under today? Pressures that just seem to be mounting each year.
Sports is one great example: I feel like today’s sports are so much more intensive than when I was a kid. And they start out so much younger. We’ve known several families whose kids are really into sports, and they start doing travel teams when they’re still in grade school sometimes. Definitely by the time they’re in middle school. They spend hours and hours and days and days on their sport at a time where I was still playing backyard imagination games. It seems a little crazy to me. It’s like you can’t just play a sport anymore—you have to live and breathe it, and go to camps and be on travel teams and work out constantly, whether your sport is in season or not. Now I’m sure that was true for some people back when I was younger, but nowadays it seems to be the norm, at least where I live. There’s pretty much no chance of making it on a high school team if you haven’t been playing for years.
And then there’s academics: It’s crazy to me how many kids are taking AP classes starting in their freshman year of high school. And instead of electives like art and drama, many (most?) kids are taking classes like Advanced Accounting, Engineering Design CAD and Interactive Media (all of these and lots more are offered at our local high school). A friend of mine’s daughter’s high school has medical and engineering academies that you start in freshman year!
These opportunities are fantastic, but in some ways I wonder what we’re doing to our kids with these expectations. Are we preparing them for excellence or setting them up to implode from all the pressures? How can a kid look around them in today’s world and feel like they can possibly measure up? Do they need to?
Kids today feel like they have to look perfect, be the best at everything they do, take the next big challenge, even if that last one practically did them in…
I homeschool my kids and I’ll admit that it’s hard sometimes not to stress about how they’ll measure up to their peers (and my kids have LOTS of opportunities that I know a lot of other homeschooling families can’t afford). Still, I don’t want to make them crazy. I don’t want to be crazy. I’d like for us to enjoy life a little along the way.
Maybe I’ll think a little more critically before I dismiss one of those YA tropes next time: The kid with the perfect body (they’ve probably been training since they were five!). The genius kid who solves crimes (heck, maybe forensics was one of his electives freshman year). I’m still not so sure these are messages I want reinforced in my YA books, necessarily (depending on how they’re depicted), but they might be more of a realistic reflection of the world our kids live in than I thought.
Do you think teens today feel more pressures toward perfection? How accurately do you think YA depicts today’s teens? I want to know!
This post has been linked up to the 2017 Book Blog Discussion Challenge.