Adults Need To Stop Judging Teens in YA Books – A Plea To Stop Calling Characters “Immature” or “Too Young”

Posted September 14, 2020 by Amber in Bookish Things / 8 Comments


I realize the hypocrisy in writing this post.

I am a 30 y/o who reads mostly YA books, and yes, I do dig into the characters.  I am imperfect.  But I am trying to stop myself – I am trying to be better.  Because an accurate teen experience should exist in YA books.  It’s something I think about on-and-off, particularly when I find myself feeling like characters are young.  And we need to talk about it.

Teens should be allowed to be young.  To be immature.  To be emotional and dramatic.  To be teens.

A lot of YA books have teen characters who act like adults.  They rarely go to school because that doesn’t fit into the plot.  They all drive, side-step their parents and curfews without consequence, and respond with an excess of maturity to crazy situations.  And yes, teens could do all these things.  But this shouldn’t necessarily be the norm.  It creates unrealistic expectations for the target audience.

And, of course, part of the problem with this is that adults are reading YA novels and calling the MCs childish if they act, well, like kids.  Not necessarily little kids, but just having aspects of perceived immaturity.  This is a problem perpetuated throughout the entertainment industry, with a heavy side-eye to film and TV where adults almost always play teens.  Stranger Things is a standout example of how kids can be kids and teens can be teens and still have a decent story.  And adults can still enjoy the story without changing it.

In books, you’ve got CAPSLOCK!Harry in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix putting his feelings all over the place.  You’ve got the unpredictable, irrational behavior of the characters in Neal Schusterman’s Full Tilt proving that you can still have a great story without upping the maturity of your characters.  Jennifer De Leon’s Don’t Ask Me Where I’m From is another excellent, diverse example of teens… being teens.

As a reader, I want to be more conscientious about calling out characters in books for being young, and watching more carefully for an environment that behaves more the way it would in the real world – with students actually going to classes and having hopeless crushes and being mad without being perfect.  As an adult, I need to understand that YA books are not written for me.  There are so many things in YA lit that aren’t in adult lit and need to be, so many reasons to read YA, but at the end of the day, these books are intended for a teen audience and that audience should be able to see themselves in the story.

Lets normalize YA books where YA readers see themselves, instead of adult-behaving characters in adult situations… who just happen to be seniors in high school.  And lets normalize reviews that celebrate teens instead of casting them down as immature.


Do you have examples where you feel the characters really acted like teens?  Do you feel this is a non-issue?  Do you ever find yourself calling a character “immature” and stopping yourself?  Let me know in the comments!

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8 responses to “Adults Need To Stop Judging Teens in YA Books – A Plea To Stop Calling Characters “Immature” or “Too Young”

  1. Hi Amber! Wow, this was such a well-written post! I fully agree with everything you said – YA is for, well, YAs and teens, and therefore adults really shouldn’t judge the main characters for making stupid decisions (especially when you find out that many of the adults critiquing the teen MC for doing that have actually made those same bad decisions themselves!)

    This is actually something that I’ve been wanting to discuss on my blog, especially with the mild controversy over “What I Like About You” by Marisa Kanter. Basically, Halle, the main character is a teen book blogger, and during a couple of points in the novel, she brought up that YA is written for teens, not adults, which upset *a lot* of adult reviewers in the book community. This also, concurrently, really upset me, because all those reviewers did was prove even MORE why YA books should be written for teens, and not adults (even though as Halle said, it’s perfectly okay for adults like you to enjoy the genre!)

    • Amber

      Oh, What I Like About You hasn’t been on my radar at all – as a book or as a controversy! I’ll look into that! It is a topic that comes up in the blogosphere sometimes, and I think it’s easy for adult readers to forget that it’s OKAY not to see themselves in books all the time – not “relating” doesn’t make the story worse and it’s pretty privileged to think that one always *should* see oneself. That bit about the adults having done the same things as MCs when they were teens but still complaining about it is pretty funny. 🙂

      YA book shave a lot to offer in terms of diversity, quality of plot, and depth of character. Really, the fact that so many authors are turning to YA for those things shows how much growth needs to happen in adult fiction. Instead of trying to claim YA fiction, adults need to enjoy it as-is, and focus on bringing those same themes and characteristics to adult fiction as well.

  2. I agree with you 100%. When I was a teenager who was reading reviews of YA books written by adults, I tended to agree with them when they called teen characters annoying or immature, but now that I’m 25, I’ve revisited those books and think the opposite of those old reviews. Teens are pressured to ”grow up” and act mature so much in real life that adults end up expecting fictional kids to act like adults and not like kids.

    • Amber

      Couldn’t agree with you more, Louise. Teens are under so much pressure to grow up, and seeing teens in books behave like adults only makes that pressure worse. As an adult, I wish I hadn’t been pressured to grow up so quickly, and I agree that media targeting teenagers needs to allow that age group to embrace the present.

  3. Hi Amber! I really enjoyed this post. I found that, oddly enough, I was really, really critical of other kids in books when I was a kid myself. I remember distinctly thinking that Harry Potter was really whiny in books 3 and 5. I was two years younger than Harry was in the books, so I found his “teenagerisms” really confusing. Now, as an adult who survived the teenage years, I understand COMPLETELY why Harry was acting the way he was acting.

    • Amber

      Hi Elka! I agree – I did (and still do) have pretty limited tolerance for CAPSLOCK!Harry in OotP, but as an adult, I GET it. I know why he was that way. 🙂 The characters may not always be perfectly likable, but we need to let them make mistakes and find themselves, the same way their targeted readership will be. 🙂

  4. Indeed, books written for teens are primarily for teens and the characters should reflect them! I’m especially annoyed by people (mostly adults) who condemn insta-love as if it never happens in real life. I see you’ve also shared your thoughts on that and I appreciate it!

    • Amber

      Thank you! I definitely understand the need for a bit of a bridging genre between Adult and YA where maybe more of the types of books people who criticise YA would live, but at the end of the day, the only thing that matters is that the intended audience of these books enjoys them. 🙂