Harmful Myths YA Fiction Could Stand To Counter


Teens and young adults are still forming their mental map of how the world works and what's acceptable in society, and the type of fiction they consume can do a lot to shape their impressions of this. But many works of fiction rely on tropes and ideals that, if used in excess, can give give them a rather skewed view of things and leave them with very unhelpful, even demoralizing ideas about things.

This is not to say that every story must be sanitized to exacting standards or that certain tropes must be tossed out completely, but that younger people could benefit from having more stories that cultivate better and healthier expectations of how the world works and how one ought to behave. So to help writers do this, here's a list of harmful myths that YA fiction could stand to subvert, challenge, or at least stop propagating.



Peaceful de-escalation and diplomatic solutions are not options. You know that scene where the characters get into a dispute, and they keep stepping closer to each other, jutting their chins and shoulders forward, narrowing their eyes and staring at each other, smirking, and making threats and challenges to each other? And you know how somebody tells them to stop, but nobody (least of all the characters in the dispute) actually tries to use legitimate de-escalation techniques and shift to a diplomatic discussion? Yeah. And you know that scene where someone tries to use diplomacy or use de-escalation techniques on another party, only for it to fail or even backfire in thirty seconds and a fight break out anyway?

In reality, de-escalation and diplomacy are incredibly important. For one thing, they're the reason that actual wars are getting scarcer and scarcer. For another, they're a key part of keeping any social environment from becoming toxic. Finally, it's basically impossible to make and keep friends for any length of time if you can't use these techniques to sort out your conflicts.

This isn't to say that every situation needs to be solved with diplomacy, or that diplomacy must always work. That's completely unrealistic. Rather, it should be shown as something that's genuinely worth trying sometimes. And it should be shown in a realistic way - something that requires a lot of sympathy and patience for people, including ones you're already extremely frustrated with.

If it won't completely fix the problem, there's no point in trying it. The Perfect Solution Fallacy stops a lot of good from being done in the world. Despite the fact that big problems are usually solved with many small solutions instead of one big one, and despite the fact that every little bit makes the world that much less miserable, many people sit on their rumps doing nothing but discourage others from trying anything because they've made up their minds that any solution that isn't perfect is worthless. So, it would be nice to see fiction that encourages young people by making it clear that slow and gradual progress is still progress, and making the world even a little bit better is worthwhile because for some people sometimes even a tiny change can make the difference between hope and despair, success or failure, or even life and death.

There's nothing wrong with being in a romantic relationship with your mentor. Whether it's the person teaching the hero how to kick ass, the person teaching a fledgling vampire how to vampire, or the person teaching somebody therapeutic techniques, there is something wrong with it: being someone's mentor and lover creates a conflict of interest and an unequal power dynamic wherein it's all too easy for the mentor to manipulate and otherwise abuse the mentee. However, many younger people imagine that a mentor/mentee relationship is an ideal situation for a romance to blossom in. It would be nice to see fiction that acknowledges that this is actually kind of messed up and really shouldn't be happening.

Stomping people's boundaries makes you cool. Over the last several years, I have seen so many people who think that their characters are being cool or badass for violating someone else's boundaries. Whether it's breaking into someone's house and refusing to leave when told to get out, making sexual advances on someone telling them to stop that and back off, treating others like helpless children who need someone to take over and manage their lives, stalking or spying on people, drugging them without consent, taking or tampering with their personal belongings, or just acting like they're entitled to someone's personal time or energy just because it's convenient for them, they see nothing wrong or questionable with their actions.

I recently watched BBC's Sherlock series, and something really stuck out at me: Characters like Sherlock Holmes and Irene Adler were often framed as cool badass rebels for violating other people's boundaries. Their flippant, smug attitudes over it were nigh identical to what I'd seen in other people's characters over the years. Given how popular this show has been among teens and young adults, I can't help but wonder if this show has played a role in normalizing boundary violations.

Now, I have no doubt that many people who watched this show when they were younger have realized that these behaviors were inappropriate and have since matured. Yet the fact remains that at least for awhile, many people legitimately thought this behavior was a good thing. One has to wonder how this affected them in real life. How many potential friends did they drive off? How many people did they hurt?

Teens and young adults often don't have a very good grasp on what constitutes appropriate boundaries, let alone why respecting them is so important. So it could be a very good idea for fiction aimed at them to explore these issues by demonstrating why respecting people's boundaries matters, and why crossing them can be so hurtful and damaging.

Therapy and/or learning healthy coping mechanisms isn't an option. Many people I've run into are unaware that many of their issues could be treated with therapy and/or mitigated with some healthy coping mechanisms. Some people are aware that these things exist, but they immediately brush them off as something that could never work for them. In the meantime, fiction mirrors this closely: many characters go on hurting themselves or others because they're apparently unaware that there are better ways to handle their problems, or it turns out that these ways just don't work for them for some reason.

Many people's lives could be made a whole lot easier if they were more aware that there are better ways to handle their problems. Depicting therapy and healthy coping mechanisms as valid and effective means of dealing with one's problems, whether one is a teenage girl suffering from self-esteem issues or a middle aged man struggling with addiction, could go a long way to raise this awareness. (Of course, care should be taken acknowledge the reality that not every therapy technique or coping mechanism works for everyone, and that it can take awhile to start getting results, or else people may end up thinking something is wrong with them if they don't immediately get results from the first thing they try.)

If you have the potential to be good at it, you're going to show special talent for it immediately. Consider how many times we've seen protagonists out who try out something new and discover they have a special talent or a rare gift for it, and thus discover their true life callings. Unfortunately, there's a fair number of young adults who believe that this is how things actually work for most people - and that if they themselves can't learn a skill in a few weeks or so, then they'll never be good at it.

In reality, most people don't start out with any kind of outstanding skill in what they do - they just keep practicing and learning until they develop their skills, and this can take months to years. However, this fact is underrepresented in fiction. If a story is truly meant to inspire the majority of people, it should show them that having to spend a long time working for one's skills is completely normal and valid.

You have to be extraordinary to accomplish anything that matters. Many, many stories center around people who are in some way special. Maybe they're chosen ones, or maybe they have unrivaled skills. Of course the occasional power fantasy is harmless, but far too many people have the impression that only special people can accomplish anything worthwhile, which discourages them from trying anything at all. So, more fiction that shows people that they don't have to be chosen or extraordinarily gifted to make a meaningful difference in the world could be very useful.


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Ethical Considerations For Fantastic Situations - Are Your Sci-Fi & Fantasy Heroes Ethical People?



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