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.

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

  1. Hello, Claire – I think you bring up lots of good things for parents to think about and they should all read and be aware of what their kids are reading – especially with a phenomenon like Twilight.

    But, in my love of all things Twilight, I had to reply to some of this (think of me as the voice of tweens and Twighlight moms everywhere!)

    To the part where you say all Bella thinks about is Edward. And all Edward thinks about is Bella. Nothing else is important to either one. I don’t think it’s quite that simple They’re very focused on each other…yes. But, before the breakdup, he has his family he cares about and she has her Mom, Dad and her friends…but after he leaves — yes he goes off to be alone (though he’s not your typical teen anyway – what average teen can just go away and not ever bump into his old flame again?) — anyway, after he goes — this is when it’s a time in which Bella believes he’s left her forever. And even then, after the requisite months of misery (see any teenager after the end of her first love) she does seem to care about Jacob and her dad again…she’s just still horribly sad and in the throes of that intense “breakup” misery.

    Where you say Edward essentially stalks Bella — (I guess that is true but remember…this is what any vampire would do. All vampires end up in your bedroom while you are sleeping — whether it’s to watch you, or bite you, or whatever….)

    Where you say..when he’s not with her and he’s reading the minds of other people — that’s true but he is basically watching out for her and “listening” with his extra senses for trouble. When he asks his family to watch out for her it’s the same thing. He doesn’t watch her to see if she’s cheating or anything like that. He believes that he’s brought trouble into her life by being part of her life and he seems to feel a need to protect her as a result.

    In the part where you say…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. I think that she did this not so much to get his attention (because he doesn’t really know) it’s because for some reason this is the only way she still sees visions of him in her mind telling her “not to do it” and this may be because the last thing he said to her is not to do anything crazy. She’s not really expecting him to come rescue her. She’s devastated because she believes he doesn’t love her and won’t come back.

    Lastly, when you say 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. Ok, I’m giving you this one. This part is true.

  2. Although Dr. McCarthy makes some decent points, I’m not sure the Twilight series should be taken this seriously. They are books that are meant for entertainment and I believe not only are they very well written, but they engage the reader to a level other books wish they could get to. I also can’t help but think about Romeo and Juliet which is taught and read in schools and is more violent than any of the Twilight novels.

  3. For all of those points you made about Bella’s and Edward’s obsessive relationship, my daughter and I both wanted Bella to choose Jacob!

  4. This is one of the worst articles I’ve ever read. If a child is going to be influenced by such books there are bigger issues with that child. It is the responsibility of the parents to teach children what is acceptable in terms of relationships. Ideally, they will lead by example but I realize that is not always possible. If all it takes is one series of four books to lead a child astray it means the care takers are not doing their part in raising the child.

    That being said, they may be teenage girls but I’m pretty sure they can differentiate between a vampire and a real, live, teen-age boy. Give them some credit, they’re not as dumb as everyone makes them out to be.

  5. See . . . these articles get me irritated.

    People are just reading into this way too much. They are just fictional books! Why do people have to take it to a level beyond what anyone should. If you read the first comment someone made, they gave perfect example as the book does in New Moon. What about Romeo and Juliet? This love story had such a tragic end and this does not.

    But what gets me most is that times have changed so much and with the least bit a familial stability anymore it is hard for tweens to understand how to start and have a stable relationship. It is a shame that we actually would need to worry about this.

    So WHAT if it is with a 100+ yr old vampire and an 18 yr old girl! Plainly . . . this is the new love story of our time. Get used to it

  6. Thank you, Dr. McCarthy, for posting this. My coworkers and I (mid-20s, no kids) have been chatting a lot about how obsessive the relationship in this book is, and how we would have definitely dumped a guy who acted so possessive. I think it is important for parents to talk to their teenagers about the relationship portrayed in the Twilight series, especially since we all agree that it’s unhealthy and would not want our significant other to treat us the way Edward treats Bella.

  7. I personally think that all people who make comments about books that they do not understand properly, and have also not finished reading the books should first, Stop writing comments like this, and second realize that people would not get sooo obsessed over these books as to jump off a cliff in order to be with the one they love, The Twilight Series is an enjoyable, entertaining series that has captured the intrest of teens everywhere. I myself am a EXTREME Twilight fan, and it irritates me that someone who has practically no knowledge of the books, and has not even finished them would have the nerve to insult them as to say that they might be harmful to teens, and preteens. I mean no offense to the writers i just feel that some Twi-hard had to say something.

  8. And to the woman who says that Edward and Bella’s relationship is unhealthy, I can tell that you have obviously not read the books because it is more than just Edward being “obsessed” over Bella, He is 117 years old and he has waited his whole life to find his true love (Bella) now if that were you, would you let her out of your sight?? If you cared so much for a person that you would never want to see anything bad happen to them, would you just treat them like they were just an average person, or would you treasure them like Gold??? See… thats what i get out of these books, not an over obsessive relationship, that will encourage teens to rebell against their family, and school, and friends, but two people that have unconditional love for each other, and would risk anything for one another. This is what most people that READ the books understand, and maybe if you took the time to read the books instead of complaining and commenting about them you will realize this too.

  9. I have to support Dr. McCarthy here. She is not saying that your children should not read the book and that they will all become involved in an unhealthy relationship as a result. She is merely pointing out an opportunity to use the books as a means to relate to your child and have a very important conversation about what makes for a healthy relationship. It can help make an awkarward conversation easier for both the parent and the child. I have read the entire series and I do worry that some teens may be negatively influenced by some of the content. Yes, they are meant to be entertaining tween books and purely fictional but as an educated adult I know that teens are very impressionable. As adullts we should not be wasting our time defending a book series but using that time to make sure our own children actually do get the right “message”.

  10. *Comments taken from Children’s Facebook fan page*

    Kelly
    sorry. As a reading specialist, I must disagree. I believe that even my fifth graders can discern fanstasy from reality. Remember the MA high school that had to send out a memo to parents assuring them that there were “no real vampires”…c’mon..

    Jill
    oh give me a break.

    Patricia Kinsley
    I totally agree and after reading the first two books I’m thrilled my 13yr old daughter has not been drawn to the series.

    Chrissy White
    Young girls have been obsessing over boys (and vise versa) since before Heathcliff and Cathy fell in love…if you have a romantic sensibility, you have a romantic sensibility. And if you live long enough, you eventually grow out of it….sigh..

    Jodi Rogers
    Bullcrap…monitor your kids if you want..there are far worse things in this world that they get hooked on…if you have taught your kids correctly, they will know better….this is a love story that is obviously not real…get in touch with your kids and their “reality”

    Dori Kelly
    Why does the love interest have to be a vampire? Yuk! Whatever happened to Heathcliff and Kathy? LOL

    Jill Cavanaugh
    Not all the teen’s who have seen the movie twilight or new moon have actually read the books. if you go into a packed new moon theater and ask them how many have read the books only a small percent will raise their hands, then ask how many are there for Robert Pattinson and a good percent will raise their hands, then ask how many are there for Taylor Lautner and a very large percent will raise their hands. Then ask them why they are there to see these characters and they will say “for the shirtless scenes”. I agree if a parent monitors their children there should be no problems.

    Kim Giroux Natola
    This series has lead my daughter to do a ton of reading. She knows there are no vampires. It is fun reading. They read about the Salem Witch trials in school….who believes in witches?

    Kelly
    The Witch of Blackbird Pond is required reading in most districts around middle school age and is RIFE with such nonsense. Why not focus on our deteriorating school systems that focus solely on high stakes testing results and are forgetting to teach our kids how to LOVE reading. Lifelong readers LOVE reading. Google Jim Trelease and read some of … See Morehis demographic stats on quality of life, longevity and status of readers vs nonreaders. To be fair, on his site there’s little mention of demographic stats on teens who think vampires are real….I’m SURE they do just fiiiiiine.

    Vanessa Amaral
    I love the Twilight saga…so good!!!

    Stephanie Gardyna
    I agree with Kelly, we’ve got to get the kid reading again.

    Chris Cook Espinola
    Books are books and I think that teens usually can separate one from reality! We all read to escape reality and fantasize for a little while. Risk taking and obsession should be experiences in a book! Books don’t always mirror real-life and they shouldn’t!

  11. I think that this is what any responsable and caring parent would say, But I also believe that Twilight is not just a regular phenomenon, It’s an amazing way to entertain teenagers, and the story of a human who falls deeply in love with a vampire is perfect for both genders, Since Stephenie Meyer also added horror effects and emotions , both boys and girls can enjoy it!
    one thing that I think dr.Mccarthy forgot to consider is that IT’S JUST ANOTHER PHENOMENON, and this kind of “stuff” doesn’t really hurt a child, exept for the school paragraph I think that teenagers today are more smart and they know what’s best for them, even if parent’s duties cannot be denied.

  12. Really?

    This is a fictional book ment for entertainment. Do people honeslty think teenagers are this impressonable? They arn’t and why must a book become a role modle for teenagers? The only time a perent will have to worry about this is if your child starts dateing a vampier! Then and only then, well i guess you can’t do too much because they will suck your blood… huh… well thats what you get for reading into things that are basic and not meant to dive deeper in, mabey people will start thinking that is promtos animal abuse, because jake is a wolf.

  13. I definately think that before letting your child read these books, it would be very wise to read them yourself so that you can discuss some issues in the book. As a LDS member (aka mormon) myself, I can see a great deal of the culture of our religion in Stephanie’s writings (she is LDS). Unfortunately, it is the negative side of the woman who obediantly follows and throws away all of her dreams for a husband. Bella is the typical Utah girl through and through. I loved the books, although they are not exactly great works of literature, and do allow my daughter to read them; however, we have also talked about how blindly throwing away your own life for anyone is probably not the best choice. We have had a number of nice talks about how the book is a great story, but not very realistic and that it is just there for entertainment, not to teach life lessons.

    Also, much like we talk about women’s bodies in movies and magazines not being realistic, we have also talked about how Edward embodies the “perfect” man (smart, educated, wealthy, protective, sensitive, loving, and self-less in many ways), and perhaps you should not base your expectations of a man on Edward.

    If a parent is going to advise a child not to read these books due to the unhealthy nature of the relationships, surely they will also not allow their children to read Romeo and Juliet.

  14. Twi-hard? Is that an Avatard in disguise? What happened to discouraging the disparaging use of this expanded reference to delayed or retarded individuals?

    Perhaps there’s a teaching point there.

    With respect to the “sky is falling, our children are so involved with dubious characters” approach, one can go back to The Bard himself to see that much ado has been made about nothing.

  15. Seriously? who reallyc ars twilight is a great series you can go like read ur psychology crap somewhere else…k if we want to jump off a cliff we can so just shutup

  16. I agree that Bella and Edward share an unhealthy relationship. But I find very ignorant of you to claim that this is how TEENAGERS think love should be. I’m a teen myself, and this doesn’t reflect in any way my personal beliefs about love. The one who thinks that love is like that the writer, Stephenie Meyer (A fully grown woman and also a mother of three). I personally believe that Edward and Bella’s relationship is one of the most unstable and codependent relationship I’ve ever read in original fiction. And even the people who like the books, most of the time do realize the negative messages. So with all respect, don’t refer to the personal opinion of S. Meyer as something that all young people agree on.

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