Amber Kizer, author of A Matter of Days, tells us what to do if when your child spends a lot of time reading about the end of the world.
Your kid is obsessed with end-of-the-world books . . . should you be worried?
Let’s start with my disclaimer: If you’re really worried, please seek professional advice specific to your teen and pay no attention to the author behind the screen.
There’s good reason for parents to worry if they stumble over kill lists or the family pet stuffed with a Frisbee in its mouth—but teens reading books about dystopian worlds? No.
My parents divorced, a surprise split, my seventh-grade year—it’s the year I discovered Stephen King’s The Stand. I fell in love with dystopian fiction. My theory is that the bleaker the worlds on the page, the more readers emotionally relate pain, uncertainty, and helplessness they may be experiencing. These books can make reality feel more approachable—more acceptable, more survivable. Frankly, teens may not be aware of why they are drawn to these tales, so please don’t interrogate them! Being a teenager is quite reason enough.
This will sound odd, but here’s what I know. The vast majority of dystopian stories are actually about hope. I said it. Hope. They are about that pure human ability to see beyond reality, and plunge on, even when all signs point to giving up.
They are stories about overcoming obstacles. Is there anything more daunting than being a teen? Perhaps . . . but it sure doesn’t feel that way. Adults can forget how massive and impossible every spin on misfortune’s wheel feels in those years.
And dystopian stories are about independence—true what-can-you-do-alone rule-breaking independence. Teens are all about becoming their own people—something to keep in mind when that door slams next time.
Characters make stories for me and I love stripping away the layers. Dystopian fiction allows true character to emerge. The main themes in A Matter of Days are problem solving and being resourceful. Nadia and Rabbit’s dad taught them to “be the cockroach”—a mindset of adaptation and resiliency that comes in handy in an abandoned mall after a plague . . . or during league playoffs after just getting dumped.
These stories can also be a great way to prepare your kids to pre-think without scaring them. Play a survival scenario game in the car—see what teens think they should do if they’re babysitting and there’s an earthquake, or what they’d drink if they’re home after three days without the taps working. Their answers might surprise you. But what they don’t know will too.
It’s little things like: do they know they can eat canned food without warming it up? Do they know to fill the bathtub when the power goes out in case the water lines are next? Do they know how to walk home from school? Do they know a phone number that isn’t programmed into speed dial? Stoke any interest they have in learning real survival techniques—it may save lives and it may well be the one topic of conversation you can agree on. Exploit the opportunity to connect with them.
Remember that while the earth may be infested on the page—hope, resilience, independence, and resourcefulness are contagious too.