The Fault in Our Sentimental Bullshit
YA Fiction and the Likeability Trap

Don't Forget to Be Alert

When I was in high school, I had a teacher who served as a mentor for me and for many other students.  

A bunch of us used to eat lunch in her office every day, basking in the adult attention and throwing plenty of adoration her way.  Not in a sexual way, mind you, and as far as I know, that line was never crossed by anybody in that room.

At the time, it seemed normal to me.  

When I got to be an adult and became a teacher myself, I realized it wasn't normal.  It was weird, and not ultimately very healthy for anyone involved. So let me say this in no uncertain terms:

Seeking the adulation of teenagers is not normal healthy adult behavior.

As I mentioned above, my mentor helped me a great deal. It's not like she was evil.

But if you're a teenager in one of these "communities", that focus on an adult seeking and getting lots of adoration from teens, I think it's a good idea to keep this question in the forefront of your mind:

What is the adult getting out of this?

Remember, as noted above, healthy adults do not engage in this kind of behavior. So the adult is probably getting one of these things:

1.) Unhealthy emotional satisfaction.  For whatever reason, this is a person who craves the feeling of being worshiped.  Perhaps it's making up for defecits in their childhood; perhaps their emotional growth was stunted by trauma; perhaps they have an untreated mood disorder or other mental illness.

2.) Money.  

3.) Sex. (This, of course, is a subset of #1).

4.) Some combination of the above.

I  encourage you to check out this blog entry by Barry Lyga, (and, for that matter, to read I Hunt Killers, which is great.)  It's a great example of the way healthy adults who work with and for teens can interact with teens while maintaining appropriate boundaries and about the kinds of things that normal adults keep in mind when interacting with teens.

There are wonderful adults out there, and there are fantastic mentors who can help you. And because adults are people and a lot of people are awful, there are awful adults who will pose as fantastic mentors or gurus or whatever and ultimately just want to exploit you.  If you are vulnerable because of something particularly awful that has happened to you, the awful people can often pick up that and prey on your vulnerability.  They are the worst of the awful people.

I'm not saying you need to be automatically suspicious of anyone trying to help you. But I am saying you should not trust people with your money or your happiness or your body just because they have done some work that you admire.  If you try to give them any of those things and they accept, even a little bit, then they are not to be trusted.  

By all means, seek out adults who understand you and can help you navigate through the crap-filled waters of adolescence.  Just don't forget to be alert.

(Shoutout to Liz Burns, whose tweets on this stuff yesterday (@lizb) inspired me to write this.)