So, yes, to some extent, adding these things to your character's life will make them seem like a real teen. But it's here that we start getting into some treacherous territory: do authors really think that this is all teens do and think about? I sincerely hope not. Because many real teens are involved in other things - like religion.
"While America is becoming a more diverse nation, at least 80 percent of teens still identify as Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon or Jewish, with most teens adhering to their parents’ faith tradition, the report said." Source
80%. 80%!!!!!!!!!! Can we all just look at that statistic again? 80% of American teens are religious.
"The research found that devout teens hold more traditional sexual and other values than their nonreligious counterparts and are better off in emotional health, academic success, community involvement, concern for others, trust of adults and avoidance of risky behavior." Source
"Substantial majorities said they:
- Were affiliated with a local congregation (82 percent).
- Had few or no doubts about their beliefs in the past year (80 percent).
- Felt “extremely,” “very” or “somewhat” close to God (71 percent).
- Prayed alone a few times a week or more often (65 percent).
- “Definitely” believed in divine miracles from God (61 percent).
82% are affiliated with a local congregation, and 52% attend worship regularly. These statistics are astounding when you compare the number of religious teens to the number of books that include religious teens. Do 80% of teen books have religious characters? Do 50%, even?
No. I couldn't find any numbers on this, but from my own personal reading experience, religious teens in the general YA book market are virtually nonexistent.* In fact, I can only think of a handful of books that I've read which include religion in some way, and almost every single one of them is written for the younger middle grade audience.
Can I just say, what the heck?
Authors include sex and swearing to make their teens more relatable. "The research found that devout teens hold more traditional sexual and other values than their nonreligious counterparts and are better off in emotional health, academic success, community involvement, concern for others, trust of adults and avoidance of risky behavior." 82% of American teens are religious. Why, then, do so many YA books think drugs and sex are going to make characters realistic?
For the most part, religion isn't even a part of YA character's lives. But if 82% of teens ARE religious, why is this not represented in the books we read?
I'm not saying we need more teen books that teach religious messages. What I am saying is that we need more books that reflect society - if you want to write a realistic character, stop ignoring religion. Not all teens drink. Not all teens have premarital sex. We need characters who reflect values that many teens believe.
Wee need religious teens in YA fiction.
*Excluding Christian Fiction for teens, which is not shelved in the regular Teen section.