Five Considerations When Writing for Teens
by Cindy Davis
Writing for teens is probably more difficult than writing for any other age group. Teens have intense opinions about many subjects. They are emotional, with hormones flying uncontrollably in all directions. They are short of attention, impulsive, and quick to anger. But, they’re also shrewd, intelligent, naive and yet, worldly. When teens like something, they dedicate themselves to it with a passion that some of us older folks have let dwindle over the years.
With all this in mind, how is it possible to capture their attention and write an interesting article for them?
Use their intensity as a tool rather than an obstacle. Since their intensity is focused primarily on their emotions, center the story around something they are passionate about; sex, parents, sex, drugs, sex, music, school, and last but not least sex.
But, of course, even though you understand what they’re passionate about, you can’t exactly write ‘drugs are bad’, ‘unprotected sex is dangerous’, ‘listen to your parents, they know best’, or ‘if you want a good job, get an education’. It’s a sure bet they won’t read past the first sentence.
Then how do you ‘get to them’?
First, find a subject you can identify with, something you felt passionate about at that age. Were you into drugs? Did you have sex without protection? Did you have trouble in school? Did you have overbearing or neglectful parents? How did you deal with the problems? Did you handle it from a purely emotional angle, or were you sensible and methodical? If it was trouble for you, there’s a sure bet today’s teens are dealing with some aspect of the same situation. And if it was trouble for you, it should be easier to become passionate all over again. Let the passion show through.
Use the proper vocabulary. All the parenting books advocate ‘don’t talk down to teens’, but what does that mean? Use their vocabulary. That doesn’t mean throw in awkward sounding slang, but don’t use $40 words, either. Use simple easy to understand language with the dialect of the proper part of the country, state, or neighborhood. Where do you learn that? Research. Start a writers group. Go to rec centers. Listen to your own kids.
But, the biggest way to get teens to listen is to let them know you care about their feelings and desires; that you’ve suffered through the same problems, dealt with the same evil doers. Let them know you’ve had moments of weakness too, that screwing up isn’t just something they’ve done.
Subjects ‘R Us
This is important regardless of whether you’re working on a newspaper article, non-fiction book or short story. If you don’t like the subject you’ve chosen or been assigned, your own passion isn’t going to show through. If you’ve been assigned an uninteresting topic to write about, delve deeply. Find something about it that you didn’t know. Something that makes you sit up and say ‘wow’ because if it does that to you, it’ll do it to others.
If your own teenager is driving you absolutely up the walls, grab a cup of coffee—or glass of wine, kick up your feet, dig down deep and recall something good about them. There must be something! If not, think ahead to the person you hope they’ll become. If you’re passionate and caring about teens, they’ll know it from your opening sentence. (As a last resort, read the headings from the top down. Take one and go to bed!)