Saturday, November 21, 2009

When Your Teen Loves a Vampire

When Your Teen Loves a Vampire
Responding to Teen's Attraction to Fang Fiction
by Brian Housman

Vampires are one of the biggest obsessions with teens now--in films, books, teenzines or the internet. The fact that more than 1,000 screens were sold out for the midnight showing debut of The Twilight Saga: New Moon should speak for itself. The film had the highest per-screen sold-out premiere in motion picture history. The popularity of Stephanie Meyer’s books (and movies) have caused a surge in fang fiction, but they are by no means the only example. Three books on the New York Times Best Seller list for young adult fiction are vampire related. In recent years, writers like P.C. Cast (House of Night), Melissa De La Cruz (Blue Bloods), and L. J. Smith
(Vampire Diaries) have experienced unexpected popularity among teens. Vampire Diaries was picked up by The CW and made into a TV series that has been the top rated show among teens this year.

What's Up With all the Darkness?

The question many parents keep emailing me is: Why the attraction with darkness? After all, we are talking about the undead. What could possibly be so appealing about coffins and fangs? If that’s what you’re thinking as well, then you are not alone, but you obviously have not seen or read about these vamps for yourself.

One draw for teens is their ability to relate to the struggles of the characters. In Vampire Diaries, siblings Elena and Jeremy are dealing with the tragic death of their parents. To cope, one turns to drugs and the other become introspective and depressed. Blue Bloods features Schuyler, a nonconformist who is treated liked an outsider at school. In the Twilight series, Bella Swan is a new girl at school trying to figure out life with a single Dad. When she meets the mysterious Edward Cullen (vampire) there is an immediate attraction.

Sexual tension is a common theme in vamp fiction and another reason teens are drawn to the genre. The sexual situation gets more intense depending on the series. The physical attraction in Twilight between Edward and Bella becomes an ongoing conversation between the two and a significant part of their relationship as the story progresses. In the Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris, deviant sexual practices are a common element. In the Vampire Diaries book series by L.J. Smith, sexual tension is not nearly as intense as it becomes in the TV series. The same is true of Sookie.

A third major theme is the issue of self control. Both Twilight and Vampire Diaries have male leads that attempt to harness their animalistic urges. Edward and Stefan know they must have blood to survive, but they each choose not to become savages prone to murder. Instead, they opt for nonhuman substitutes (deer or other wildlife). They both learn to control their super human strength, choosing to use the ability to protect people rather than exploit them. In the Twilight series, Edward also exercises self-control when he makes it clear to Bella that he will not have sex with her unless they are married. Stefan in the Vampire Diaries does not hold to the same standard, but shows a measure of loyalty to Elena. Another primary character in Twilight: New Moon has to learn to control his temper, strength, and anger as he goes through his own type of puberty. Did I mention he is a werewolf?

The Good With The Bad

This is not to say that all is rosy in the world of the undead. There is plenty of violence, obsession with sex, blurred lines between good and evil, inconsistent moral standards, and the devaluing of human life (unless a vampire happens to be in love with you).

For anyone venturing into the vampire genre, sexual tension is unavoidable. That tension can be more easily felt in reading a book rather than watching a movie because your mind allows you to fill in the blanks and your own imagination takes over. It is imperative that you be a part of that experience with your teen and not set them to figure out those sexual boundaries on their own.

Most teens girls I’ve spoken to have already either seen or read one the Twilight books. Many of the older teens have moved on to other series. My encouragement would be that if your daughter reads any of these, then read them together. It is easy for girls to get lost in the fantasy and romance of the stories. It is not a far stretch to idealize someone like Edward or Stefan into the perfect boyfriend. They are loyal, protective, understanding, masculine, and extremely attractive. There is opportunity to talk about relationships issues such as what to look for in a boyfriend, while maintaining your own identity when dating. Your sixteen year old daughter may look at you with suspicious eyes if you start a random conversation about her boyfriend but you just might get somewhere asking her who would make a better boyfriend Edward or Jacob? Using a little honey could get you the same results.

One overriding principle for parents to remember: just because it’s out doesn’t mean your teen should watch or read it. You and your teen should judge together whether or not the elements in a movie like New Moon could lead them into a productive experience, or if it’s something to avoid altogether.