Tweens + Twilight, or, Stop the Insanity

I  just finished reading Rebecca Stead’s wonderful article on tweens in Time Out New York (thanks to educating alice for the link). This was thought-provoking and sobering reading. It would be wonderful if all parents could read it and consider what they can do to protect their child’s childhood. Reading this article was good timing for me, since I’ve been thinking these past few days about this very subject, of kids behaving as “wannabe adolescents,” years before entering their teens. This year I teach 9-year-olds. There is a child in one of my classes who has read all of the books in the Twilight series and is in the process of rereading them (yes, all the way through book four with the wild sex / monster parasitic vampire fetus / abortion debate etc. etc…).

When I was 9, these were my favourite books:


I know I grew up in the country, but still. Call me crazy, but I think 9 is childhood. 9 is still firmly in kid-territory. 9 is not tween or pre-teen or even close-to-teen. 9 is not the time for sparkly vampires and their abs-of-steel and frosty kisses. Is it not possible to save something for later, even if the movie is coming out next month and the TV is telling you that all the cool kids are going? Must the answer always be yes, you can if you want to?

At this rate, pretty soon there will be kindergarteners who can say they’re in Team Edward or Team Jacob.

I think this is so, so sad. I think of my 8/9/10 year old self and I remember these years as a golden time, before I started thinking about how I measured up, how pretty I was or how popular, or whether boys thought I was worth anything. I loved the quote in Stead’s article from Susan Linn, ““Traditionally these years are a time of great intellectual and creative flowering.”

What are we doing? Is it too late?

11 thoughts on “Tweens + Twilight, or, Stop the Insanity

  1. thereadingzone

    It’s an interesting dilemma. I’m a big proponent of kids self-censoring themselves. My 10 yr old sister wanted to read Twilight so she asked me what I thought. I told her I read the series and enjoyed it, but it might not be up her alley. She was dying to read it because “everyone” was reading it. Well, she did get it from the library. I knew forbidding her from reading it would only make it more tempting! Anyhow, she read about 15 pages, put it down, and gave it up. She found it boring. Self-censorship at its best. She did watch the movie with some friends, though. She enjoyed it but hasn’t mentioned it since. I don’t think she really loved it.

    My 6th graders always want to try Twilight. I have had only 4-5 girls finish the whole series, out of close to 200 students. All of those girls were already dealing with issues in their own lives that weren’t “childish”. Twilight was their escape.

    I do wish we could stop making so many movies out of YA books that are then marketed to tweens. The movies make them want to read the books more than anything else.

  2. Kari

    Twilight involves parasitic fetuses? Oh man, that just made me judge those books SO much more.

    I also agree with you 100%. When I was 10, I was prowling around my neighborhood like Harriet the Spy and watching Salute Your Shorts on Nickelodeon. Hold off on the vampire fetuses at least until the teens. It actually depresses me…media is trying to kill childhood as they market these teen books and movies to kids. Ugh.

    Good post…I’m going to read this article now!

  3. Nicole

    Hey there,
    I do know what you mean and agree with you to an extent, but I think there might be some sugar-coated hindsight here, especially when it comes to reading. Those were absolutely my favourite books too, but you know what else I read in Grade Four? The entire V.C. Andrews library. Probably about five times over. You know why? Older siblings. Truthfully, I don’t think I even understood at that age that there was incest going on in the book, I was just more fascinated with the no adult supervision that permeated the world of Flowers in the Attic. And I bet that to some extent the sexual depictions in Twilight are probably lost on your Grade Four girl. I do think sometimes familial situations can create the accelerated emotional growth that happens–I wound up watching Porky’s, Eddie Murphy Delirious and Revenge of the Nerds at the ripe old age of nine as well because my siblings had rented them, but I haven’t grown up to be a foul-mouthed perv. As long as kids have access to everything appropriate for them as well, I don’t actually believe there is any harm done. I was a voracious reader and could easily flip back and forth between Beverly Cleary and a Sidney Sheldon novel. And now, I work in publishing.

  4. L

    thank you for that article.

    my daughter (who is 9) is an avid reader and her reading level (& comprehension) pushes the limit and I could easily overlook the fact that she is 9. But like you, I do believe 9 is 9, and she’ll get to 12 quickly enough.
    there are a lot of books out there, many of them pretty good, some do not avoid a sense of ‘reality’ or the darker, edgier sides of life or the imagination, but they handle it in a way that matures with the child, and doesn’t age the child. it hasn’t been hard to redirect my daughters attentions, and avoid borrowing trouble. it helps to have a conversation about reading, i can suggest ‘let’s hold off on that one’ and offer a few others that might interest her for now.
    it is not that i wouldn’t want her to ever read that book, but i tell her that it would be a better story later. because sure, she probably wouldn’t get some of the content, but if the content is what fuels the conflict, adds depth and complexity to the story, what is the point in her reading it now, let her enjoy it when she can be affected in the way it was intended. there is time enough, and there are excellent authors enough.

  5. Stephanie

    agreed agreed!

    The real struggle is finding books that are emotionally appropriate even for the advanced reader.

  6. Tasha

    Nicole! That’s exactly what I was going to say. When I was that age I read every book by VC Andrews I could get my hands on, and peddled them shamelessly to my friends. I have no older siblings to blame it on either.

    Yes, I loved Secret Garden, the Little House on the Prairie books, and Wolves of Willoughby Chase. But I also adored Judy Blume who was one of the racier authors of the time.

    And I was one of those kids who wasn’t allowed out after dusk, had to be in bed by dark in the summer, and wasn’t allowed to wear shorts to school (ever!)

    I am also the mother of a tween boy, who wants to be 13 as desperately as I did as a kid. He is a mix of teen and child. He can bike around the neighborhood to visit friends but doesn’t like to sleep over yet. He adores video games and cartoons, and doesn’t like movies. Every kid is different. For me, it is about allowing them to grow up neither cocooned or over-mature. It is about letting them be themselves, whatever that is. And it is a pleasure to watch it happen.

  7. Stacy

    This is why it’s so important for librarians/parents/teachers to read, read, read. So that we have alternate suggestions at the ready. Why does a kid want to read twilight? Does s/he want a vampire story? A romance? Some action? or it it just because it’s everywhere?

  8. Jackie Morse Kessler

    My kids are 8 and 6. We read together, every night before bed. And now my 8 year old, as part of his 3rd grade curriculum, reads to me – 20 minutes every weeknight. I’ve promised him that if he keeps doing a great job, in January we’ll start reading the first Harry Potter book. You should have seen his eyes light up.

    And when he is in 5th grade, I’ll introduce him to The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod. **is happy**

  9. Bonny Becker

    Ursula K. LeGuin has something wonderful to say that I think relates to this. In an essay on Sleeping Beauty she turns the point of that story on its head. The endless sleep isn’t a bad thing. It’s a timeless moment to treasure between childhood and adolescence that can never be again. Here’s part of what she says in her essay “Wilderness Within”:

    Her starting point was a poem by Sylvia Townsend Warner in her “Collected Poems”:

    The Sleeping Beauty woke:
    The spit began to turn,
    The woodmen cleared the brake,
    The gardener mowed the lawn.
    Woe’s me! And must one kiss
    Revoke the silent house, the birdsong wilderness.

    LeGuin continues:

    >>This is the image we retain. The unmoving smoke above the chimney top. The spindle fallen from the motionless hand. The cat asleep near the sleeping mouse. No noise, no bustle, no busyness. Utter peace…

    It is the secret garden; it is Eden; it is the dream of utter, sunlit safety; it is the changeless kingdom.

    Childhood, yes. Celibacy, virginity, yes. A glimpse of adolescence: a place hidden in the heart and mind of a girl… there she is alone, all by herself, content, and nobody knows her. She is thinking: Don’t wake me. Don’t know me. Let me be…

    At the same time she is probably shouting out of the windows of other corners of her being, Here I am, do come, oh do hurry up and come!…

    But at least she had a little while by herself, in that house that was hers, the garden of silence. Too many Beauties never even know there is such a place.<<

  10. shelfelf Post author

    Thank you all for sharing your perspectives. Bonny – I especially liked the passage from Ursula K. LeGuin. You’re right, it fits absolutely with this discussion.

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