Why I write YA: Looking Into The Teenager’s Psyche

Recent events in Singapore and overseas have prompted me to come up with this entry. All these events involve teenagers, mostly in the age group of 16 to 18. What these teenagers have done point to issues within their psyches and reinforce the motivation behind my writing.

In Singapore, a tragic event has happened, involving the deaths of two teenage boys. One of them claimed that he would come back as a demon slayer to prevent World World III. He managed to convince a few friends to join. One backed out, the others frightened. In the end, two boys died. Verdict = suicide. And in Germany, a teenager attacked his school with firebombs. He was shot by the police and is now hospitalized, pending further investigation.

What is going on behind the teenager’s minds? No doubt, these events involved teenage boys. They were certainly acting out something from their psyches. But I want to point out the fact that teenagers are definitely facing huge issues within themselves. The suicides and the rampage hint at deeper psychological issues and motivations, that even parents are unable to grasp the reasons as to why such things happen to their children.

I have taught teenagers from ages 15 to 18, both at secondary school (junior high) and junior college (senior high) levels. The teenage years are fraught with excitement (puberty!) and angst (again, puberty!). Teenagers are confronted with their maturing bodies and sexualities, perturbed at the fact that they are being treated like children and eager to prove a point to the adults. They are often conflicted, because of these issues. Coupled with changing values and exacerbated by the influence of the Internet, teenagers are sometimes forced to find their own ways, often in the dark and without proper guidance. Society is changing rapidly, with family structures undergoing radical formatting and the media often encouraging certain values. The teenage mind is bombarded by divergent stimuli – the glitzy world of celebrities advocating free love, sex and drugs, the unrealistic world of online gaming and crumbling values and morality.

Teenagers want guidance. They look for it and often they look at the nearest role models to teach them. Celebrities are not ideal role models. Online gaming just divorce the teenager from the real world. Absent parents make the teenagers look for guidance elsewhere. This period of their lives will lay the foundations for their future paths and they want to make informed choices. They want role models to teach them how to make choices. They want independence, but they desire someone to help them ease into adulthood.

When I wrote Winged, I explored such issues. The two main protagonists are young women at the cusp of adulthood. Both of them yearn for freedom and independence. The trick is how they manage to navigate through the often confusing world of adulthood, cope with their own internal struggles and make choices for their individual paths in life. In the two stories, they encounter adults who teach and guide them. For Katherine Riley, the steampunk pilot girl, her teachers are the flight academy instructors and even Queen Victoria. Oddly enough, her nemesis is an old mean-spirited teacher who torments her and leaves psychological scars in her psyche. For Min Feng, the phoenix princess, teachers come in the form of an abbess and a Navajo businesswoman, one to help control her raging phoenix-fire within and the other to show the ropes of business.

Perhaps, one would say that I am idealistic and that teenagers face far more complex issues than the need for right guidance and mentorship. Sexuality, friendships, relationships with other people – also form a part of their conflict(s). Here I would argue that the YA novel is not only purely for entertainment, but also a discourse on how the teenager deals with daily problems and struggles with their own developing psyches. A strong adult would help guide the teenager, be it the parent or otherwise. I want to see YA stories where the adults truly listen to teenagers, instead of turning them away.