Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels have become a popular feature in school libraries thanks to their graphic storylines, dramatic love scenes, and gruesome portrayals of vampire life. They are even credited with the 5% rise in children’s book sales recorded last year. However, neuroscientists and literary educators, media academics are investigating whether such novels are detrimental to the brains of teenagers. At a conference at Cambridge University, these experts came together to discuss whether dark novels like Twilight are affecting children’s brains negatively.
Maria Nikolajeva, a professor of education at Cambridge and the organizer of the conference, believes that literature has a powerful impact on teenagers’ minds due to their stage of development. Adolescents are more vulnerable to the power of literature, which can result in confusion. These novels can affect their decision-making, judgment, and the development of their psychological, social, and sexual identity. For instance, Twilight spreads conservative ideology, with Bella’s leading role as a girl who is only interested in getting a boyfriend and getting married, conforming to gender stereotypes and conservative family values.
The conference attracted over 70 participants from over 20 countries, including teenage-favorite author Meg Rosoff and American linguistic anthropologist Shirley Brice Heath. Discussions included topics such as "What is it about good girls and vampires?" and "My life would suck without you." One of the key takeaways from the conference was that Twilight could be an excellent training field to help teenagers understand how people think, feel, and act. This way, young people can be exposed to extreme situations that they will most likely never face in real life but can learn from.
Despite the potential for harm, many academics believe that young adult novels could provide an essential benefit to adolescents. If skills, like literacy, do not develop before adolescence, they could be lost forever. This outcome is why neuroscientists have recommended exposing young people to various narratives, regardless of their artistic quality. By doing so, they may become interested in other books. Furthermore, teenagers gain confidence by reading lengthy novels of 500 pages, as well as writing fan fiction or blogs. These are welcome side-effects of reading Twilight or any other books.
Nikolajeva concludes by saying that the debate regarding dark themes in young adult literature will not end anytime soon. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins is receiving more attention than Twilight, with authors trying to out-shock one another. Authors should take responsibility for what they write and be aware of the impact on young people. "There must always be hope left, even in the darkest fiction," says Rosoff. This hope and optimistic outlook can help teenagers navigate through life’s dark challenges.
Upon reflection, Nikolajeva has determined that indulging in escapist literature isn’t necessarily negative when compared to real life. She notes that modern youth are keenly aware of ecological concerns, poverty, terrorism, AIDS and other weighty topics. Hence, telling them that the world is a harmonious and idyllic setting is pointless. In contrast to juvenile literature, young adult novels have always tackled genuine, often sombre themes. As such, it is highly probable that Twilight will maintain its dominance in the literary market until the emergence of a new genre.