YA Fiction and The Generation Gap

The Generation Gap – a difference in social perception between the youth and their parents. Why father and son don’t get along. The friction between mother and daughter. The genesis of the phrase oft heard by parents, and the repeatedly spoken statement by their children – “You just don’t understand!”

Generation gaps are caused by changes that take place in society between the formative years of the parents and the formative years of their children. These can be from external forces, such as immigration (or invasion) changing the social makeup of a population, or internal forces, such as technological discoveries changing the way things are done or a horrible plague.

For most of human history there was no generation gap. You made fire by rubbing sticks together. You got food by hunting or subsistence agriculture. It was really cold in the winter and very hot in the summer. You lived in the same place as your parents or changed location very slowly. Invasion was a constant threat. Parents and children grew up more or less the same.

Generation gaps have appeared from time to time throughout history. I can imagine the Egyptians experiencing this as their empire grew rapidly and children were given access to goods and services their parents lacked. In many cases, as empires are growing, children don’t grow up with the difficulties of their parents. As a result they see things differently. Bingo, generation gap. Most of the world’s major empires have experienced generation gaps. Sometimes, large generation gaps precede the collapse of an empire – but not always.

America, and I write for the U.S. market primarily, has had it’s share of generation gaps. Definitely the roaring 20′s had one as our nation prospered. Then came the depression and another one. World War II followed and the depression kids, victorious in war, quickly gapped with their post-war, affluent children. The population spread out. Kids no longer lived near their extended families. The frame of reference used by parents to interpret the actions of their children was suddenly different than the frame of reference their children were using to make decisions and value judgments.

Huge leaps in technology quickly manifest in even greater generation gaps. Preventive medicine. Drugs. Illegal drugs. Radio. Television. Transportation. People who grew up without electricity were watching man walk on the moon over television. Massive, massive generation gaps. Huge misunderstanding between parents and children. Incredible stress on kids being raised in societies who’s growth has far outstripped the pace of ethical and moral evolution. You suddenly have a world in which a woman can choose whether or not to have a baby – even if she is already carrying it. People can be kept alive indefinitely on machines that breathe for them. People can meet and become friends without ever seeing one another face to face. Instant communication. The pace of societal evolution is changing faster than ever. Generation gaps are widening – not shrinking. Social stress is growing as laws fail to keep pace with changes.

Why am I writing about this? Because this is the stuff of young adult fiction. These are the issues facing kids today. There are reasons my kids think differently than me. And it isn’t an issue of right and wrong. It is due to different frames of reference. These are the things I strive to write about in my work. How technology and changes in the world are altering the fabric of society. My novel Multiplayer, based on online gaming and where that is leading us. Viridis, an exploration of global warming and environmental awareness taken to one of many possible ends. Calculators, how the nuclear bomb affected the people living when it was first used. If these ideas excite you, you will like my work, and I’ll be writing about specific cultural changes in future posts.

But the glue that holds all these together of course is this truth: people don’t change. Perceptions change. Times and places change. But no matter where you are or at what time, no one likes to hurt. Everyone wants to find love. We all strive for friendship. Betrayal is never appreciated. These are the constants of human interaction that do not change with the times. These are the bonds that reach across the generation gaps that try to divide us. Welcome to PlotForge. Forward thinking books for a changing world.

Rights for photos

About John

American, husband, father, writer, rocket scientist, soccer player, motorcycle rider, Christian, and proud of it.
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One Response to YA Fiction and The Generation Gap

  1. Terri-Lynne Smiles says:

    This is another slight but interesting difference in our writing, John. You tend toward themes of societies in transition, I tend toward themes of individuals in transition. Once again, external and internal. Yin and Yang.

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