Feminism | Posted by Julie Z on 09/1/2010

Ellen Hopkins, Censorship and Why We Can’t Tell Teens the Truth



Crank and Glass, both written by Ellen Hopkins, follow Kristina Snow, a high achieving 17 year old, as she nose dives into a meth addiction, with details on her subsequent rape, unwanted pregnancy and eventual jail time. Now, with just that one line description to go on, I can kind of see what the administrators at the high school over in Humble, Texas were thinking when they were presented with the opportunity to have the mastermind behind the series speak to their students. Who wants their kids exposed to what it’s really like to do drugs? So, they uninvited Ellen Hopkins to their “Teen Lit Fest.” Their thought process, as “concerned parents” sort of makes sense…until you actually read the books.

Both of these books were based on the author’s own experience of watching her daughter battle her own meth addiction, and the close proximity to and honesty about addiction are apparent in the text. Hopkins paints a portrait of a girl – lost and miserable – and even personifies the “monster” that is her addiction, a bona fide villain that haunts her. Not to mention that all of this is done in gorgeous free verse poetry.

These books display the truth about addiction: the honest and raw facts. No teen could possibly read this series and think to themselves, “Must. Become. Burn Out. Immediately. SOUNDS LIKE SO MUCH FUN!” Instead they think, “Wouldn’t it suck if my life became all about feeding a monster that lives in my brain and torments me constantly, not to mention opening myself up to the increased possibility of dangerous situations because of  my lack of judgment? I’m glad I read this book that in fact dispels the glamorization of drug use.”

Or something along those lines.

It’s not just that these parents, by trying to censor Hopkins’ work, are doing their children a disservice by shielding them from an experience that would almost definitely turn them off of drugs. It’s that the idea that teens must be shielded from reality – that they will make BETTER decisions if the truth is hidden from them —  is getting so very, very old.

It’s the same old song and dance that goes along with abstinence only sex education. I can just imagine politicians (probably convening ironically in a strip club, but then again, I have an active imagination) denouncing the general sin that is teens having sex and deciding, “Well we’ll just keep it from them by telling them to wait instead of giving them the nitty gritty about it. That’ll work.” Except for that it doesn’t.

But comprehensive sex education does. You know, the route of giving teens the facts and telling them what they can do to make the best out of a realistic situation. The same should go for teaching us about drug abuse. Give us the facts. We can handle it and we’ll be so much better off for it. Amazingly, teens aren’t about to pick up  an addiction at the mere mention of drugs.

If you talk honestly, we’ll listen. We don’t need clowns or comparisons of our bodies to sucked lollipops and we don’t need you hiding the world of drugs from us. We just need the truth, support and education. With that, we’re golden.

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  • A @ at 3:36 pm, September 1st, 2010

    I agree!! The facts are so much more helpful. If adults don’t tell teens, they’ll have to feed their curiousity in less safe ways then just hearing the facts. I don’t even have that much to say, because you summed it up so perfectly.

  • Nyxie @ at 4:29 pm, September 1st, 2010

    One of those moments I feel lucky that all my health teachers have completely shunned outside programs and taken our health ed into their own hands – my own teacher gave really damn comprehensive education not on just sex, just drugs and alcohol as well, including advice on how best not to get hurt if you are going to take it.

    My school is one of those schools conservatives like to pretend don’t exist – there are lots of drugs going around and yet most kids aren’t addicts. Most kids are aware of their own bodies and, thanks to said awesome teachers, how drugs work, and can figure which drugs are okay for them to take and which one they should decline.

    And, really – contrary to conservative belief that the moment a kid sees drugs, they’ll become an addict, I’ve seen kids turn them down all the damn time. We’re not infants. We are given lots of responsibility expected of adults, and yet we reap few of the benefits as we continually get treated like children. :|

  • blakerivers @ at 2:55 am, September 2nd, 2010

    Adults feel both a need to protect the “innocence” of youth and a shame of their own youthful misadventures that causes them to repress. The latter makes it too embarrassing for many adults to converse openly with youth about such topics. The former, the worship of the complete illusion that is “innocence”…well it doesn’t do any good either. People have this supremely idiotic notion that children are innocent until corrupted and must be sheltered from that corruptive force at all cost. But that simply isn’t true; to the contrary, they are just as fallible but merely lack the full agency that inevitably comes with age.

    It just goes to show the power of social conditioning. Once the whole paradigm of censorship gets started, people are loath to let it go. Good old religious conservatism, outdated but continuing the brainwash manifesto.

    Remember the simple formula: Suppression leads to Perversion.

  • Rachell @ at 9:20 am, September 4th, 2010

    Great article. I had flashbacks of last year, including my freshman health teacher almst-screaming “JUST KEEP. YOUR. CLOTHES. ON!”, learning about how drugs are bad but only alcohol is okay in moderation when you’re over age 21, and the abstinence-only speaker who spoke to our whole school about how girls get pressured into having sex because when guys say “I love you”, we get pressured into giving up our purity. We were given free pamphlets called “Pure Manhood” and “Pure Womanhood”. If I knew about feminism then, maybe I could have done something. At least now I know it’s all a bunch of lies. Thanks for putting it all so eloquently.

  • Emily @ at 8:30 pm, September 4th, 2010

    I have to agree with your conclusion. The ONE thing that helped me be responsible when it came to alcohol, drugs, and sex was seeing what happened to the people in my neighborhood who weren’t responsible. Seeing it up close and personal, my parents hardly even had to tell me “don’t do drugs” or “don’t have unprotected sex” or anything.

  • Keema @ at 1:39 am, September 6th, 2010

    I agree. I mean adults really do do our generation a disservice thinking that if they share information with us about sex or drugs that we’ll automatically change into a sex or drug addicted teen. In fact the facts will only make us safer. Adults need to tell us waht we’ll encounter in the cave and how to encounter these things instead of having us wander around cluelessly and we end up making bad decisions. Even if they don’t want to tell us themselves: this is why writers like Ellen Hopkins exist! And also if your daughter (namely your daughter because guys can’t get pregnant) can’t come to you with questions then they’ll most certainly have questions when the guy of their dreams have them in his bed and he’ll tell her a bunch of lies to get to her virginity. THen when he’s done with her she’ll go around the the wrong information and probably end up with and STD or something and then the parents are left wondering,”Where did we go wrong? We didn’t see this coming!” And it all could’ve been avoided with a talk, or maybe even reading a book. This is how society fails us sometime.

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