Do you ever find yourself talking down to children?
Your voice might change, with your tone taking on significant levels of condescension and your body language further reflecting that kind of attitude?
If so, you’re hardly alone. It can be difficult sometimes to know how to treat these miniature human beings when they’re changing every single day.
There can be a very fine line between babies and toddlers, toddlers and little children, and little children and children.
Then there are the older kids. As in pre-teens and teenagers. It’s not quite as easy to patronize those age ranges, but that isn’t too comforting when interacting with them introduces its own set of problems.
This includes the desire to try and sound “cool” on their terms.
To some degree, those attempts are understandable. We all want to be liked – and we most certainly don’t want to be humiliated. Yet, let’s face it, pre-teens and teens are really good at letting you know when they think you’re a complete and total idiot.
Which they often do, continuing the communication complications, right along with hormones, lack of experience and the Hollywood scene.
It’s fairly obvious by now that Western culture glorifies youth. With a "Lights. Camera. Action!" pre-teens and teens suddenly seem a whole lot smarter and cooler than they actually are.
But… Newsflash #1: The actors playing those characters are rarely actual teens and pre-teens.
And… Newflash #2: Things haven’t changed since we were teens and pre-teens. There may be some kids who are “cooler” than others. However, that doesn’t change the fact that they have a whole heck of a lot to learn.
As such, the job of anyone writing a middle-grade or YA nonfiction book is quite simple. It's to acknowledge Western culture in this regard without embracing it.
In other words, you’re the adult. Act like it.
When writing a middle-grade or young adult nonfiction book, don’t try too hard to be too “hip.”
First off, kids don’t really use the word “hip” anymore. Secondly, there are major differences between being a child or teenager, and being an adult.
“No duh,” you say? Fair enough. But every generation comes with its own jargon and expertise that separates it from its predecessors. Therefore, you’re an outsider. Pretending to be otherwise can turn off the insiders you’re writing to from accepting your main message. Which, presumably, isn’t the outcome you’re going for.
This sentiment cannot be expressed enough.
Speaking of Hollywood, you know those documentaries and nonfiction accounts (and movies made from documentaries and nonfiction accounts) that tell about interactions with vastly different societies?
These accidental or intentional anthropologists typically have to learn two things if they’re going to succeed in whatever mission they're on:
How to share what they know without being arrogant or condescending
How to admit their differences and even failings without letting the other side walk all over them.
You’re in the same position if you’re writing a middle-grade or YA nonfiction book. You’re interacting with a foreign society that has its own language and perspective.
That doesn’t make you inferior. It just makes you different.
Admit those differences. Embrace them even. Even acknowledge that your audience has a valid perspective on whatever they’re going through or whatever they’re trying to learn.
Just don’t do any of that while demeaning your own perspective. Groveling is no way to teach anyone about anything worth writing a middle-grade or young adult nonfiction book about.
Or anything else for that matter.