How important are books (fiction, nonfiction, comic), magazines and newspapers to teenagers today? Many would argue that teenagers read much less today then even ten years ago. Still, reading is a major part of our schools’ curriculums at all levels. Authors such as R.L. Stein and Stephen King write books that appeal to a mass audience of adolescents and pre-adolescents. Magazines are read daily by a growing number of teenagers eager to see the latest trends and how to be slimmer and sexier. Dark comic book heroes are targeting teenagers, as is the underground pornography easily accessible by young adults.
Maybe teenagers are reading less today, but they are still intently reading specific types of books and magazines. Outside school curricula, adolescents are very purposeful in what they read. Magazines tend to offer teenagers a melting pot of information and advertising, but books and comic books, as well as certain sections of the newspaper, are specific focusing on a primary theme or topic.
According to Barnes & Noble Booksellers, YM, Seventeen, and Teen are the top magazines for adolescent girls, while Muscle, Mountain Biking,and Computer Video are the most popular magazines among adolescent boys. Although magazines about mountain biking may be more popular in Colorado than in Kansas, there still seems to be a pattern to what magazines kids are reading. In today’s youth culture, adolescent boys tend to read for pleasure and information, while adolescent girls read primarily for identity. A July 1997 survey of fifty boys and girls, ages 11-19, in the Colorado Springs area reinforced many common beliefs about adolescents and their reading habits:
Stephen King, R.L Stein (horror)
YM, Teen, Seventeen
Favorite Newspaper Section
Other magazines that are often read by adolescent girls and boys are Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Spin, and several different sports magazines that cover specific activities, like snowboarding and surfing. Popular authors that also surfaced were John Grisham and Michael Crichton. Teenagers into comic books often read Wizard, X-Men, Spawn, and Batman.
Critique of Media
There are three ills in the printed material read by young people. First, teenagers are becoming more enamored with dark, horror novels. One adolescent referred to the books he prefers as “spine-chillers.” Goosebumps especially gives an example of a short, simple plot with pages of senseless blood and gore. The saddest part of R.L. Stein’s Goosebumps is that his works are written for 10-14-year-olds. Besides this violence for adolescents, Stephen King reaches teenagers with his books of death and destruction. Today’s comic books are also darker, packed with more violence than comic books of the past. The characters are more mysterious and more powerful, while their alliance to good or evil is sometimes cloudy.
Second, magazines are read en masse by young adults, enticing the adolescents with talks of sex, the perfect body, and how to please your boyfriend or girlfriend. These magazines feed lies to girls and boys, taunting them with the idea that they are not beautiful people.
Third, the same magazines are 50% to 80% advertisements. These ads sell the ideas that cigarettes make one beautiful, that one can only have fun when alcohol is involved, or that wearing the right cologne will lead to sexual intercourse. These messages are very real, direct, and damaging to today’s adolescents.
Application for Youth Leaders and Parents
It is always helpful to be familiar with what kids are read, so it would be beneficial to browse through the aforementioned books, magazines, and newspaper sections as often as possible. Specifically look at the ads, to see what messages kids receive about themselves and the products they buy. Reading such magazines as People, Newsweek, and Time also provides youth leaders and parents a balanced view to current issues concerning youth culture.
Adults can turn to secular print material to find material for group discussions, club talks, etc. YM carries great “embarrassment stories” on the back of its cover; these anecdotes can introduce real-life instances of shame. Any one of the listed magazines provides articles easily used to share valuable lessons with kids.
Although these different forms of print can fill adolescents with destructive thoughts and destroy much of their self confidence, there are still positive ways to use current print material.
Children’s stories are also effective with adolescents. The Giving Tree, The Velveteen Rabbit, The Three Trees, and authors such as Shel Silverstein, Dr. Seuss, and C.S. Lewis remind teens of their kids childhood in a way that is fun and ideal for teaching values.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How have reading habits of teenagers changed over the past decade?
What are your thoughts about the emphasis on sex and looks in current magazines? How are they helpful? How are they harmful?
What effects have you witnessed in the teenagers who read today’s popular books, comic books, and magazines? Do these media strongly influence the young people with whom you work?
Teenagers today need to understand that many authors of popular novels are creating a glamorized cult of violence. Teenagers need an adult to help them critique such works.
Today’s magazines are filled with articles and advertisements that encourage teenagers to a sense of low self-esteem and a lack of self-worth. Youth leaders and parents need to be up-to-date on what these popular magazines tell kids and, like novels, we need to help them process this information with them.
Not all print material is destructive. Adults can use much of this material to relate to teenagers. Draw useful and truthful applications from some of the latest, most popular magazines.
There are three basic questions to consider about a potential a resource. First, what does this book, article, cartoon, or advertisement say about the adolescent world? Next, how can teenagers openly, safely express how they feel about this material? Finally, how can adolescents learn to process what the material tells them, how it effects their lives, and how it relates to them?