Literary Violence and Tweens

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Should you be concerned if your Tween is writing gruesome or violent stories?
One Tween Mom asks:

“I'm wondering how folks feel about their kids writing violent stories -- if they do? My son wrote something yesterday -- incredibly well written for someone his age (11). A friend thought it was high school level writing. But the content was pretty gory - A horror story really - if I had to label it a particular genre. I've never seen him write something this prolific and I complemented him on it - even suggested he show it to his teacher - though he said no right off the bat -- he was considering it later in the evening.

But - I do wonder about the content. But I also figure Stephen King had to start somewhere, right?”

Responses:

“Could you say what concerns you about him writing a gory horror story? What do you wonder about the content? You have not said anything that gives me pause at all. I'm wondering if there is a bigger picture that has you concerned? Or maybe not.

I am much more concerned when kids (including my own) act violently than when they represent violence symbolically. I was all for playing with plastic swords and knives when they were younger.. I think of aggression as a natural impulse that needs to be worked out in kids' minds through play and talk and even writing.

Maybe recent events have us all more on edge about violence in young men.

Perhaps your acceptance and praise of his writing is what had him considering sharing it with his teacher. Maybe he was expecting anxiety from adults? Not at all clear that anxiety is warranted.. I'm interested to hear more.”

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“When a friend, an elementary school teacher, attended the first set of plays written by her daughter's 6th grade class, she said, "Well, it's clear that middle schoolers want their parents dead!". Perhaps it's the age?

Stephen King - if you've ever lived in Central Maine, his writing makes perfect sense :) July and October are great, but the other 10 months, not so much.”

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“I think writing violent stories is really normal at that age. My son wrote a gang-war story at age 11 which was set in a future dystopia New York City, for a school assignment (at a Quaker school, no less!). It was well written but certainly had plenty of blood in it. The teacher was unconcerned, and commented only on its literary qualities.

There was a fascinating segment of a documentary I saw a few years ago (Raising Cain). A class of children (younger, maybe 7ish) was sharing stories they'd written and one boy had written a story in which a horse dies, and several girls objected to that. So the teacher went along with the suggestion that no animal deaths were allowed. The scene switches to the same boy attempting to write a story that kept to those rules. He fidgets, flops about, sighs, starts, stops, starts again, slumps in his seat. The point was that if boys are not allowed to give voice to their natural interest in themes of death and such, they are terribly constrained and frustrated, and may lose interest in the project entirely. It was part of the film's larger point that school and its rules in general can be very constraining and difficult for boys.

Anyway, that scene really convinced me to try not to be too concerned about or critical of my boys' interest in violent stories. When you think about it, a lot of YA fiction (not to mention fairy tales!) is pretty dark too, which suggests that it's something kids that age are working out.”

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“It's not quite the same, but I had a "do I know you?" moment with my 10 year-old boy the night before last (as he was doing homework in preparation for day-long Gettysburg trip yesterday), when I realized his interest in the Civil War stemmed more from the battles and weapons and less from the passionate feelings about equality and slavery that I had at that age. (On the other hand I'm writing this as he's practicing violin in another room…). (He's also been "comfortable" with his aggressive side in play for a long time, so not new for him in this case.)

In addition to the savvy responses that have already come in, it's possible that your guy has reached a point where he's comfortable enough with his own "gory" and violent side to start experimenting with it. Maybe it was harder when he was younger? Pre-pubertal hormones kicking in? And/or, all the skills, talents and synapses/frontal lobes, etc. are flourishing (and pruning) to the point he's ready to strut his stuff in the writing department? (A "don't get me started" topic for me--inappropriate developmental expectations for elementary school writers, particularly boys…) Exciting that it was so well written!

But also…who knows, maybe something IS going on that needs a bit of attention? Writing gory stories can feel safer than telling someone about a problem. Sometimes the social landscape can start to change for 11 year-olds, in their different phases of entry into puberty (sometimes more for girls than boys, but not always). Maybe someone or something is giving him a hard time, and he's trying to let you know. It can be so many things, combinations of things, or nothing. If this is the first time you've seen him writing something like this, it could be an opportunity to pay attention.

Recently I was talking to the shocked guardian of a 12 year-old girl, who had written a first person account of rape. She was worried that she had been sexually assaulted, which was possible. But given the circumstances, it was also possible that she was just experimenting with all the feelings that the idea of rape provoked. It's difficult to know without paying more attention and asking some questions.”

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“My son is only 9 but loves guns, warfare, etc. and writes and draws about this stuff a lot. He does not act violently and is not unusually aggressive (no more than the usual rambunctious boy) and very much understands the difference between imaginary guns and real ones, since we (his parents) are strong believers in strict gun laws and pacifist types. When his passion emerged in 2nd grade, I was very disturbed by it, and what really set me off was a story he wrote that was very violent - a kind of gun massacre. I wanted to censor it, but realized in my gut that didn't seem right. I spoke to his teacher who was wonderful. Not only did he reassure me that my son's interests were developmentally normal but he also encouraged me to find positive ways to react. One book he recommend is Boy Writers:
http://www.amazon.com/Boy-Writers-Reclaiming-Their-Voices/dp/1571104259

There were other books he suggested I look at (can't remember titles) - the gist is that it's better to find positive ways to nurture a boy's interests and channel them into constructive ways, than to reject or make him feel badly about his fantasy life. For our son, this means nurturing his interest in military history, imaginary play around spies/soldiers, exploring genres such as Western movies (he loves Sergio Leone!) and literary works that have warfare or spies as a theme. And allowing him to act out with play the scenarios that cultivate imagination (of course, within rules about nerf gun safety, respecting others who do not like gun play etc.). Our younger daughter is pretty vocally against all kinds of violence and a total peacenik, but even she can get swept up in the excitement of his imaginary play.

For what it's worth, when the Sandy Hook tragedy struck, although we did not discuss in detail, one thing he really understood is why a civilian should not have guns used by the military since they are so lethal.

In spite of all this, I do still wrestle with this passion of his - if I had control over such things, I'd much rather he be a total science nerd or something. But we can't control such things, so better to accept with reasonable guidance since really, fantasy is OK as long as real behavior is respectful and kind.”

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“I'm glad I'm not alone. But I actually knew I wasn't as I do have 3 brothers.

My oldest son was sent to the guidance counselor because during art they were taught to draw 3-d and then given leeway to draw what they wanted. He drew a super hot car with an automatic machine gun on top. That is the same kinds of things my brothers drew. It bored me back then and I can't tell you how bored--and impressed--I am at my 12 year old's 11 page non-fiction paper on the artillery advancements during WWII, the tactics specific weapons were best for, and how they effected the outcome of specific battles.

Does this mean he will grow up violent? No. Does it mean he will own guns when he is older? Maybe. My oldest brother owns quite a few guns (but we grew up in rural Alaska and this is not unnormal.) He also designs weapons that keep our country and our soldiers safe. My younger brother is now a bone surgeon. (My youngest brother who drew pictures of cowboys and Indians instead of modern weapons is a horse shoer. Maybe there is a connection.)

Although my son loves learning about war strategy and weapon development, he also has a moral side. He longs to attend West Point and when my husband pointed out that, "the bad thing about going to West Point is if there is a war people will shoot at you" my son replied, "actually, the bad thing is if you go to war you have to shoot at people."

My takeaway about boys and guns: this is a normal part of growing up.”