Thursday, May 6, 2010

why I won't be giving Twilight to my daughter to read

I enjoyed reading the Twilight books (in an escapist, slightly sickening, I've-had-enough-of-this-obsessive-love-affair-and-what-does-he-see-in-her-anyway kind of way).

But I'd rather put dynamite in the hands of a gang of teenage boys than give Twilight to my 11 year old daughter to read.

On dress-up day at my kids' primary school, among all the 6-year-olds dressed as Spiderman or the Little Mermaid (itself a little disturbing if you've seen these films!), there's always an 11-year-old girl in full Twilight regalia: New Moon T-shirt, whitened face, short skirt.

My kids recently brought home a set of Scholastic Book Club pamphlets from school. Did you get them as a child? I remember poring over the pages and choosing that one perfect picture book! But these days there are less innocent items for sale. Here's some books recommended for 10 and 11 year olds:

  • Heart-2-Heart. Hollywood’s coolest teens reveal their heartbreaks and heartaches!
  • Kristen Stewart / Guys of Twilight Pack. Relive the dream with the stars of Twilight!
  • Fallen by Lauren Kate. Some angels are destined to fall… Lucinda is drawn like a moth to a flame when she meets Daniel at her new boarding school. A page-turner for Twilight fans.
"Drawn like a moth to a flame": that sums up why I won't be giving Twilight to my daughter. Not so much because of the vampires, blood-letting and mayhem, but for these reasons:

  • Romantic love is not more important than my daughter's life. Doomed teen love affairs have been popular since Romeo and Juliet. But no teen crush, however intense, is worth my daughter losing her good sense, happiness, sanity, or self-respect, let alone her life!
  • Romantic love is not more important than my daughter's soul. Still more sinister is the suggestion that a love-affair can be of such significance that it's worth losing one's soul! I don't want my daughter giving up her faith or purity for a love-affair.
  • Purity is not just about sex. The love-affair in Twilight is famously unconsummated until marriage. But every touch, caress, and kiss causes Bella to become so breathless that she's near fainting. The emotional intimacy is even more disturbing than the physical intimacy. Edward and Bella have the kind of intense, exclusive, emotionally fraught, unhealthy, obsessive relationship that you'd pray for your teenager to be spared.
  • Long term sexual faithfulness bears little resemblance to Twilight. I don't want my daughter reading statements like "their bodies did interesting things together" - I quote from innacurate memory. But even more, I don't want to feed the teen girl's dream of a time when they will have sex all night, every night, and enjoy their lover's attentive devotion all day. Hardly a realistic view of love, marriage or sex.

Twilight has some redeeming features. Edward does what all men should do: he protects Bella's life, well-being and purity (at least when she lets him!). In fact, he's a much better role-model for boys than she is for girls. Bella does what no woman should do: she woos, tempts, and pushes his boundaries as far as she can. I'm not sure that many teen boys who are not immortal 100-year-old non-violent vampires would display such self-control in the face of this kind of temptation!

My friend, who works with young women at uni, just finished the first two Twilight books. As she says, you have to wonder what long-term impact these books will have on girls and their relationships. Which is why I think Twilight should come with a warning: "May be dangerous for pre-teen and teen girls".

second two images are from Angie22Art at flickr


Narelle Nettelbeck said...

Personally I think the Twilight series is poorly written and could only bare reading the first 2.

I totally agree with your thoughts in terms of teenage girls reading them and being filled with "incorrect information" about love and life.

Jean said...

Yeah, they weren't well written, and I did struggle a bit to get through them all! But it was summer holidays ... :)

Rachael said...

The whole blood letting thing has been a bit more of an issue here, with rumours of girls turning up to hospital having had their blood drunk by their boyfriends.

Jean said...

Oh, dear, Rachael, that's awful! No doubt it's happened here too in some circles.

Katrina said...

For me, a concerning aspect of these books is the vampire premise. You didn't mention that in your reasons for not passing it on to your daughter. What are your thoughts on that part of the story line?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that helpful review, Jean. Here in Chile the books are ferociously popular. What I gather from my conversations with my oldest son's school friends (and their mothers!) is that it really is Edward's character that enthralls them. It is so contra the machista culture here. I have been invited to speak to my boy's religion class on any topic and thought I might speak of love (real love, not the world's view) and reading your post made me think of linking it to Twilight. It would be a good connection for them... Thanks again. Jo C

The Bullhorn said...

First, let me say "Thank you." You exhibit wonderful clarity of thought on this and identify some issues I hadn't considered. I think there are some others that you could add to your list.

I confess, I haven't read any of the books, nor seen any of the movies. I guess I find the whole concept a bit creepy. I mean, the girl is in love with a MUCH older man, and the only reason we aren't instantly repulsed is that he LOOKS like a teenager. Here in the US, they lock up grown men who prey on young girls. So I guess I'm not sure why this is suddenly oh so romantic?

Besides which, in literature, esp. Stoker's Dracula, but even in more modern fare like The Vampire Lestat, a vampire is an embodiment of evil and the demonic. Again, what makes falling in love with evil so tragically romantic? The whole concept has more in common with being the lover to a famous mass murderer than anything and mundane as Shakespeare's star-crossed lovers. Is it a tragic romance? Well, yes, but mostly in the sense of being pathetically sad that someone is embracing evil rather than the "Ah, love..." sense that most readers of the books seem to engage in.

Jean said...

Katrina, Jo and Bullhorn,

Thanks for your encouragement, observations and questions.

On the vampire issue: It's really a "good v evil" book - the heroes and lovers in the book are "good" vampires who don't prey on humans, and their enemies are "bad" vampires who prey on humans. In other words, it's a world - like Harry Potter, with its "good" witches and wizards - which I'm happy to lose myself in for a while, and would be happy to read with and explain to an older child (although probably not Twilight - especially in the case of girls -for the other reasons I mentioned). I know not all Christians will agree with me on this one, and it would depend on the child and the context.

On the older man issue: I hadn't thought of that aspect, Bullhorn, and it's a helpful point, thank you.

Jo, I'm glad you found the post helpful - and yes, it would be a great way in to talking with teens.

In Christ,


Jenny said...

I've heard that some uni age guys have read them because they are intrigued by what women find so appealing about Edward. Poor guys - I don't see too many Edwards running around (probably because they're running so fast. Ha, ha!).

Seriously though, I hope that women who read Twilight, can look at the great Christian guys they do know and appreciate them for all they are, rather than hankering after some totally made-up romantic guy.

PS I always thought the age thing was a bit creepy too.

Jenny said...

I was also going to say that I think you did the right thing by reading them Jean. I have an almost 10yo daughter and I read them to know what's in them. I'm not sure I can completely ban her from reading them, but if she does read them at some stage I'd like to be able to talk through all these different concerns with. To help her with her with her ability to discern.

Jean said...

Yes, Jenny, if my daughter was a little older and wanted to read them it wouldn't be a complete ban - more "let's read them and talk about them".

Simone R. said...

Am I revealing too much if I say I've read them all (and not just once) and bought a new moon dvd on the day it was released?

Yes, the writing is tacky but I really enjoyed the Twilight books. They are page-turners.

9-12 year old girls that I teach are devouring them. I don't think this is great - for all the reasons Jean said - but it isn't new. When I was 12 I was (foolishly) reading Virginia Andrews (Flowers in the Attic etc.) and earlier I had read all the Sweet Valley High trash. Girls (and sad 30 something year old women) are suckers for stories about obsessive and destructive love affairs. When we are little we want to be like the disney princesses. When we grow up we fall in love with various princes: the Austen variety (Darcy, Knightly etc), the TV variety (SeaChange's Diver Dan or Max)... None of them are good for us. All of them make us think that there is some man out there somewhere who will complete us etc etc.

Crazes will come and go. I think in a few years time we will all look silly if we jump up and down and protest too loudly about Twilight (But I don't think you are doing that, Jean!) The twilight books aren't going to be a helpful read for preteen and early teen girls (or 30+ year old women!) but neither is much other stuff out there. Twilight isn't unique.

Jean said...

Thanks, Simone, helpful analysis, and I agree - jumping up and down about fads is pretty counterproductive (although I must say the entire bookshelves devoted to vampire spin-off novels in bookshops do tempt me - on the assumption that many of them are far worse than Twilight) and Twilight is definitely not unique nor, I'm sure, the worst of what is available.

Heather McInnes said...

I have to agree with Simone on this one. I too am a fan of the books and the movies, all the while realising it is not the best literature but it's what I call a 'fluffy' read - something light with no substance which a very tired brain can get through as a way to relax.

Having said that I am an adult and thanks to lots of great teaching from my Church and more mature Christian women I can differentiate from fantasy and reality more easily than a pre-teen or teenager could.

I love all the points you made Jean, I'm not a Mum but a primary school teacher and know many of the older girls at my school (and lots of the female teachers!) are fans of the book. I wouldn't give this book to any of my friend's daughters as a present but as crazes go, sometimes they still get their hands on them regardless and I would hope that Mums would read the books themselves and be able to talk with them about the content.

Thanks for this post Jean.