Parenting Blog Hop: Instant Focus Group and Other Benefits of YA Writing with a Tween

Recently an agent I admire tweeted, “Your YA characters aren’t worried about being Punked. That show hasn’t been on in 10 years.” While there have been a couple of attempts at a reboot, the agent is right. Ashton Kutcher’s version had its heyday in 2006 and most of today’s teens probably haven’t watched a single episode.

If you’re a parent of a tween or teen, chances are you already know this kind of information. You know that teens tend to prefer Tumblr to Twitter, that they were using Spotify for two years before Apple Music came along, and that by and large they like print books more than reading on a Kindle. As a YA writer, having a teen feels like a big advantage. I get to keep my toe dipped in youth culture but filter what I see through my experience as an adult.

For me as a YA writer, staying informed about teen life is just one of the benefits of being a parent. One of the best perks is what I like to call Instant Focus Group. This happens when I’m writing and I need a bit of perspective on how a tween or teen would perceive a situation or how they would respond. The slumber party or birthday party makes the perfect Instant Focus Group. Surprisingly, this is an activity teens seem to enjoy. They’re in the process of figuring out how to navigate their world and, for the most part, don’t mind sharing about the process. And the results can sometimes be really surprising. I recently had this conversation with my teenage daughter:

Me: “If one of your friends liked a boy in class, how would she show it?”

Teen Daughter: “Why do you automatically assume my friend would like a boy? You’re so heteronormative, Mom!”

This conversation was a good reminder that people of my daughter’s generation are in the process of challenging a lot of the ideas that people of my generation accepted as sacrosanct. And this is something I feel is important to keep in mind as a YA writer.

I’m really lucky in the respect that my daughter is also a very talented writer (Sorry! Braggy mom here). It’s really interesting to read her work and I feel it’s a good window of insight into the preoccupations of the teen mind. There are a couple of things that consistently shine through – a certain amount of unsureness or insecurity and flexibility. To me, young people, even strong ones, are a bit uncertain of their course and they’re open to the new, to new ideas, new experiences and to change. In fact, teens are always changing. They’re changing classes, changing schools, changing friends. I want to find a way to incorporate this into my YA writing as well.

I think being a parent has made me a better writer. Now, I’m off to put this idea up for discussion by my Instant Focus Group.

Other posts from the Parenting and Writing/Editing Blog Tour.