Obsession and risk-taking: What New Moon tells us about how teens think romance should be

new-moonLast week the latest Twilight series movie, “New Moon,” smashed all records for opening day box-office sales, earning more than $70 million—$26 million from the midnight showings alone (beating out the Harry Potter midnight showings). Add that to the millions of Twilight series books sold, and there is absolutely no doubt that we are dealing with a true teen phenomenon.

If your child is a Twilight fan and you haven’t read the books yourself, there are some things you should know about them.

First, the books can be quite scary at parts, with a lot of real or threatened violence. And second, while there’s no sex before marriage between Bella and Edward, the relationship is full of sensuality and sexual tension. Hormones are raging big time.

What parents most need to know, though, is that the relationship between Edward and Bella is very obsessive.

For example:

  • All Bella thinks about is Edward. And all Edward thinks about is Bella. Nothing else is important to either one.
  • Edward essentially stalks Bella. In the first book, he watches her sleep – without her knowledge or permission. When he’s not with her, he reads the minds of people around her (a nifty vampire gift if ever there was one) so he can keep track of what she’s up to—or he has one of his vampire family members watch her for him.
  • When Edward leaves Bella (spoiler alert: he’s gone for most of New Moon), she does extremely risky things (like jumping off a cliff, or taking wild motorcycle rides) to get his attention. Since he has the power to know what is happening to her, Bella figures he will come and rescue her (which he does).
  • What Bella most wants from life isn’t to graduate from high school and go to college (she applies without any intention of going, unless it could be a way to be with Edward), but to become a vampire and live forever with Edward.

    MccarthyClaire111408
    Claire McCarthy, MD

Somehow, this all works in the books, which are a great love story, completely unencumbered by any reality that might get in the way of the romance.

But teenage girls don’t always get the difference between romance and reality, and I can’t help worrying that some will wish to emulate the relationship between Edward and Bella. I worry that they will think it’s good to be obsessive, to think only about their boyfriend and nothing else—at the expense of other relationships, schoolwork, or other activities. I worry that if a boyfriend is controlling or wants to be with them all the time, they will think it’s romantic instead of seeing that it’s a warning sign for date violence. I worry that taking extreme physical risks might be appealing to some readers who will associate it with being in love—and that teens will be hurt.

I’m not advocating that parents stop their children from reading the books. On the contrary—given that less than a third of 13-year-olds read every day, and that the average 15-to-24-year-old spends a mere seven minutes a day reading, I love that so many teens want to read the Twilight series. It’s far from great literature, but if getting lost in a Twilight book leads kids to get lost in other books, it would be wonderful.

What I am advocating is that parents talk to their children about the books. Ideally, you should read them. You’ll really know what you’re talking about, and you’ll show your child in a concrete way that what matters to them matters to you. (I’m midway through the third book; they are actually very entertaining).

new_moon_bookBut even if you don’t read the books, talk to your child about the relationship between Bella and Edward. Ask her why she finds it appealing, if she does. Talk about the way the books make her feel. See if she can think of how a real-life relationship that obsessive might cause problems. Make sure you listen as much as you talk (if not more).

By having the conversation, you can turn this teen phenomenon into a learning experience for your child and a chance to strengthen the bond and communication between you. Getting kids to read and families to talk—that’s the best kind of teen phenomenon.

Is your pre-teen or teen a Twi-hard? Have you had to have conversations with them about the books or movies?

Claire McCarthy, MD, is a primary care physician and the medical director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Martha Eliot Health Center. Read her recent post on the five things you need to know about H1N1.