With increasing rates of anxiety, depression, and mental health issues for youth in the past two decades, it may be the case that young people, no different from American society generally, are suffering from reality overload. Young people today have unprecedented access to information about which they may have little power to influence or change.
The powerful world of science fiction
Science fiction and fantasy do not need to provide a mirror image of reality in order to offer compelling stories about serious social and political issues. The fact that the setting or characters are extraordinary may be precisely why they are powerful and where their value lies.
My contribution in the forthcoming essay collection, Raced Bodies, Erased Lives: Race in Young Adult Speculative Fiction, discusses how race, gender, and mental health for black girls is portrayed in speculative fiction and fantasy. My essay describes how contemporary writers take an aspect of what is familiar and make it “odd” or “strange” enough to give the reader psychic and emotional distance to understand mental health issues with fresh eyes.
From the Harry Potter and Hunger Games series to novels like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower and Parable of the Talents and Nancy Kress’ Beggars in Spain, youths see examples of young people grappling with serious social, economic, and political issues that are timely and relevant but in settings or times that offer critical distance.
This distance gives readers an avenue to grapple with complexity and use their imagination to consider different ways of managing social challenges.
What better way to deal with the uncertainty of this time than with forms of fiction that make us comfortable with being uncomfortable, that explore uncertainty and ambiguity, and depict young people as active agents, survivors, and shapers of their own destinies?
Let them read science fiction. In it, young people can see themselves—coping, surviving, and learning lessons—that may enable them to create their own strategies for resilience.
In this time of COVID-19 and physical distancing, we may be reluctant for kids to embrace creative forms that seem to separate them psychologically from reality.
But the critical thinking and agile habits of mind prompted by this type of literature may actually produce resilience and creativity that everyday life and reality typically do not.
So, the next time your kids are into reading science fiction, hopefully you won’t say no. Would you?
Written by: Esther Jones
This article was originally published by The Conversation.