It’s a tentative statement to make, but age fourteen seems about right, to me, for a reader to start learning about current events from their fiction.
Teenagers really should know more about events in the world than almost anyone. One would think that with several phones, a tablet and a laptop constantly in tow, that they would be barking out current affairs and world trivia quickly enough to leave Anderson Cooper red-faced. We all know where we turn when we want data on the latest trends in fashion and entertainment, so why aren’t the most wired-in people on earth equally versed in global trends?
The fact is, though, that they aren’t. According to Randi Mazella, as of 2014, there was “no increase in public knowledge” among this age-group, despite the vast multiplication of access points into that knowledge. As more and more devices dot the landscape, increasing the glow and chatter around us, one would expect that everyone would just know more… about everything… but I have more than once seen a brilliant young public speaker stumped during the Q&A, when unable to name their state’s leader or a war in progress. The research that Mazella cites reveals that only 15% of young adults are considered fully informed. And the reason is probably simple.
They don’t want to know about the world; they want to know about their world.
While nobody has commented yet on an age-group for this story, I had in mind, when I wrote it, the same age as the last one: around fourteen. I would be impressed if the average person that age even knows that Syria is something other than a vitamin-enriched breakfast, let alone knows anything about the conflicts there. The fact is, though, that the people caught up in those conflicts are just like us.
The teenagers are just like them.
That’s why a sneak-attack might be best for writers. In addition to asking kids to read newsfeeds and study history books, we should be hiding those issues, like grenades, amongst the humor and trauma that they find familiar from their own lives. Capital Letters takes this approach by telling a story of adolescent angst that is universal; then, the hidden grenade goes off, revealing how much more anxious this angst might feel in a less fortunate part of the world.
There’s no reason, though, that this strategy couldn’t be employed more often in popular fictional worlds. While it’s true that some dystopian fiction allegorizes world events, there is often a sense of coziness to it that belies any dangers in our reality. As for paranormal romance and magical realism, well, those already take place right here in our world.
Perhaps more should take a trip to the less privileged side of it.
– More Words from K. Alan