Authors: Helping kids and teens find their voice

In the US, “civil discourse” seems to have become a thing of the past. Pick any issue you like—the economy, gay rights, guns, etc.—and look at the media coverage. Most likely, you will see the most polarizing views splashed across the headlines. The extremes on both sides are the loudest, so they get the microphone. Those of us in the middle rarely get heard.

In the media and in politics, our world is increasingly painted as black-and-white, us-versus-them, my-way-or-the-highway. But this is not the real world. The real world is full of nuance, full of people who fall somewhere between the two extremes—people who would like to be heard but cannot get a voice.

Authors can be that voice. Authors tackle the hard subjects and are able to bring out the nuances, the shades of gray, the hard compromises that so many people face on a daily basis. Authors can speak to and for the people in the middle, the vast silent majority that think the extremes on both sides have gone nuts.

Nowhere is this authorial speaking more important than in middle grade and YA literature. It gives voice to the most voiceless among us—the children (and, yes, teens are still children in many respects). Young children in our culture are often taught to be seen and not heard, to obey without thought, and to conform to our societal norms without question. But children have things to say. They see things differently from adults. They may not conform to our expectations, and then what? Then they feel lost and rejected and alone.

Children’s authors can help these kids find a voice, understand themselves, and know that they aren’t alone. Authors can help open up a dialogue, get kids to understand people different from themselves.

Teaching children that their opinion matters and that they can speak up is a positive and powerful message. Whether it’s speaking up against a bully or against the horrible food in the school cafeteria, children should be encouraged to think for themselves and speak for themselves. If we instill this in our children at a young age, the effect on them as adults might be striking.

If we teach kids to speak up yet speak with respect, to allow others to have opinions different from them yet still be able to work together, to understand that they do count and what they think does matter, we might begin to negate the polarized world we live in. We might have a middle that can be heard. We might have a new generation that understands how to discuss and debate without vitriol. We might have a generation who will turn out to vote in elections. We might have a generation who can find the middle ground on the hard issues and actually fix things.

We might raise kids that can change the world. All we have to do is help them find their voice.

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