Thursday, 17 September 2009

Talking to Teenagers

Two years has passed since Punkindustriell hårdrockare med attityd was first published in Sweden. I’m very happy that my novel is still popular and that I get invitations to visit schools to talk about my book and my writing.

On Tuesday I went to Tranås and spoke in front of a big crowd of 16-year olds who had a whole day set aside for topics like health, sex and study skills. I talked about identity which is a big issue in my debut novel. How important it is to know yourself when it comes to dealing with sexual relationships. There are a lot of assumptions depending on your identity. E.g. if you are a Christian some people expect you to wait with sex until after marriage, but if you’re popular girl wearing a short skirt a lot of people think you’re willing to have sex all the time. I know this is a very black and white way of thinking, but when you’re young the world is far from grey ... And there’s some kind of security in the way we label people and put them in boxes.

What I’m trying to tell (note, not teach!) the teenagers is that the most important thing is to find out what you want for yourself, before listening to anybody else. And once you’ve found out what you want (or don’t want) you have to make sure you have good arguments for your way of thinking or acting. E.g. if you want to drink ten beers – fine, as long as you’ve got a good reason for it! Or if you want to remain sober, - fine, but you need to be able to tell people why! Everybody will show you more respect if you can stand up for your beliefs.

The talk I did the day after, in Uddevalla, was a bit different. The students were a couple of years older, and believe me, it does make a difference when you are a teenager. They were not as restless and didn’t look as uncomfortable as the first lot. Most of the Uddevalla students had read my novel and had prepared very clever questions like: Is Amanda (the main character) really insecure or not? She keeps pointing out that she feels very insecure, but still tries things out like alcohol and sex. Some people who are insecure just keep hiding in a corner for the rest of their lives ...

I think there’s a difference between being insecure and being shy and having low self-esteem. These things are all connected, but I believe that if you want to move on in life you have to try things out even if it can lead to trouble ... More than anything else Amanda is very curious and feels the pressure (both from herself and her peers) to get pissed and lose her virginity. Those things don’t happen if you remain in a corner ... So yes, she’s insecure, but by trying things out she finds out things about herself and slowly builds up her self-esteem ...

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