2018 Young People’s Literature Review: Always “Never,” by Emily Wilson
Emily Wilson taught Pupil Personnel and Parent Educators at Collège Maisonneuve. Her clinical training as a psychotherapist was a vital benefit when she set out to write this book, an easy read for those who work with teens (or their parents) and for parents of teens.
“I write about teen pop culture, politics, and more,” the author says. “I watch with curiosity and think about what the context is. Each chapter asks questions that appear in my research—what parents need to know about a potential new celebrity who is trending. Or, what do I need to know about a story that may have endless interesting details.”
Wilson’s list of topics could be broken down to five distinct questions each chapter. For example, the opening chapter on bullying leads with, “What are people’s reasons for bullying? What do they truly mean by bullying?” Using the popular hashtag #MeToo on social media, she explores the parameters of cyber-bullying to identify how parents should respond to harassment on the internet.
The surprises come in chapter 2, “What Role is Musical Participation Playing in Parent/Teacher Relationships?” She looks at the lines between traditional music programming and musical performances—what role is musical participation playing? When it comes to singing and music, she finds there is often a connection with a “personal life” at home that is important, along with academic and athletic extracurriculars that go on as well. She introduces us to dynamic, lyrical teen heroes, ranging from 17th century Sufi poet Rumi to contemporary bard Solange Knowles. The author cites her research with neuroscientists who explain why music inspires the brain to remember lyrics.
Wilson talks at great length about social media such as Twitter and Facebook, discussing how they affect behavior, peer pressure, motivation, and friendships. Her chapters, while brief, are an essential introduction to teen pop culture and why it affects behavior. She runs out of time on page 4: After her topic, she closes by closing the book and letting us know that kids who are less popular are likely to have worse adjustment, on average, than teens who have stronger ties to others.
What Wilson seeks to convey is that popularity builds on itself, increasing pressure and changing lives in the process. Young adults can feel this pressure; it is a little bit like how the evil golden girls are portrayed in Grimm’s Fairy Tales. “Popularity appears very confusing to adults,” she says. “We don’t understand why people are happier with all the attention they’re getting—we think it must be for the wrong reasons.”
Addicted to popularity, teen girls are especially at risk for anxiety, poor self-esteem, high doses of self-criticism, and other psychological harms from the relentless cheerleading. As the founder of MyAthleticLife.com, Wilson understands the pressures young athletes feel and how these can lead to ADD/ADHD and chronic exhaustion.
“There is no piece of candy in the world that feeds as many a body with the calories as being popular,” she points out.
As adults, we have let teen celebrities determine our priorities, power and voice. Her questions revolve around how we define success: Is it simply about results and rewards, or is it about how we define success. What do we value and why? We must learn to question and to care—to open our eyes and our hearts to everyone around us.
Read this terrific book, learn more about Wilson’s research (Her PhD dissertation focuses on teenage girls’ personalities and weight issues), and use this helpful book as a guide to our teen daughter, teen son, or adolescent in all its forms: online, in person, and everywhere in between.
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This column is brought to you with a financial contribution from the RBC Wealth Management Office.