So who doesn’t swear or cuss on occasion? Right? It’s part of our current culture. Everyone does it—increasingly so and harsher as we go along. Swearing has increased in movies, television shows but especially books. When I was a teen reading Lord of the Rings or anything written by Ray Bradbury there wasn’t a single cuss word anywhere. Teens then were cussing up a storm when gathered in groups and such.
But it wasn’t in our literature nearly to the extent it is today.
This begs the question: Is all of that cussing really necessary?
Sarah Coyne, professor of family life at Brigham Young University analyzed the use of profanity in forty young adult books on the best seller list. Thirty-five of them had at least one swear word. On the average there were thirty-eight instances of cussing, with one book containing nearly five hundred uses of foul language.
Is that really necessary to become a best seller with teens? The argument is the author is reaching for authenticity and grit. But there are plenty of books with grit and reality that don’t make us feel like we need a shower to rinse off the stench after reading them. Look at The Hunger Games Series. Could a story get any grittier or more realistic? How much cussing did you hear from Katniss or Peta? During the final battle with Lord Voldemort, did Harry Potter let loose a stream of expletives?
In my humble opinion, cussing is a cheap way out of finding a creative way to express oneself. And it cheapens the book as well.
Here's something interesting Professor Coyne discovered:
The characters doing the swearing tended to be of higher social status, better looking and have more money than their non-swearing counterparts.
So what does that say to the preteens who are forming their ideas of who they are and who they will become as adults? Everyone knows kids who read, tend to do so about three to five years above their age level. I’ve seen Fourth Graders reading the Twilight series. None of MY children would ever have read something like that at age nine, but I saw it when I was teaching. And the kids who were allowed to read material years ahead of their maturational level, refused to read age-appropriate, excellent literature, thereby missing out of a whole world of good books.
The problem with today’s young adult books is a reader doesn’t know what they’re getting into until they’re knee deep in the mire. This goes for swearing, sex and violence. Ever try to stop a teen from 'enjoying' something which contains sex, foul language or gore? Of course an allowance is made for the genre bridging the innocence of middle grade books and adult-level reading. But how much is too much? How do we protect the sanctity of innocence until a young adult is ready to become an adult if what they’re reading reveals all?
As an author of Picture Books up through Young Adult, I feel the need to protect my young readers from what they’re seeing in movies and television, hearing in the lyrics of their music and experiencing while playing their video games. Teens aren’t allowed to remain innocent and naiive anymore…and I think it’s a shame on our society.