Showing posts with label teenagers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teenagers. Show all posts

12 December 2023

Parenting Choices Can Drive Crime Fiction Involving Minors

I've addressed before the benefits of writing crime stories involving children and teenagers. Simply because of their age, they could lack good judgment, be more willing to engage in risky behavior than an adult would, and not have sufficient experience to foresee the consequences of their actions, among other issues. As such, they could be useful for a crime-fiction author.

But parents can play a large role in what minors do, and this also opens a lot of opportunities for authors. You've probably heard the terms helicopter parents (for parents who take an overly active interest in their children's lives) and free-range parents (for parents who take a more laid-back approach to parenting). Depending on what you want your child/teenage characters (and your parent characters) to do in your story, you might give the adult a parenting style that is more controlling or more easy-going or somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. 

Helicopter parents
For instance, imagine parents who keep their son home on weekends to keep him away from a bad crowd. The boy could rebel, which opens up many opportunities for crime stories. Or the boy could follow the parents' rules and become a victim of bullying by kids who make fun of him for being so obedient, which also opens up crime-story opportunities. Or the boy could pretend to follow his parents' rules but sneak out and wind up in a whole different kind of trouble than the parents were trying to prevent. Again, crime-fiction opportunities galore. (Of course, the boy also could stay home and study a lot and earn a full college scholarship and live happily ever after, but that's not really useful for crime fiction.)

Free-range parents
On the other end of the spectrum, picture parents who are easygoing with their children. They give their kids slack, thinking overly protected children could rebel (see the prior example) or could fail to learn how to deal with problematic situations because they never got the chance. These parents could want their kids to learn self-reliance. They could want their kids to have the carefree childhood they remember themselves. Or they could be bad parents who simply don't care what their kids do. Or they could care but be overwhelmed by life and unable to oversee their children as much as they should or as much as they'd like. There are many reasons a parent could have a laid-back parenting style--good reasons and bad ones--and there are just as many potential consequences for the child/teenager characters. Once again: crime-fiction opportunities galore. (And once again, kids of free-range parents could exercise good judgment, never get in trouble, earn full college scholarships, and live happily ever after. I'm not saying one parenting style is better than another. But stories in which nothing goes wrong don't sound like crime fiction.)

My use of free-range parenting
I've made use of easygoing parents in several of my stories. In "Wishful Thinking," I have tweens explore a haunted house. They needed parents who didn't micromanage them for that plot to work. Similarly, when I was writing my newest short story, "Real Courage," I needed certain things to happen for the plot to work (including an unsupervised party), things that wouldn't be believable if the teens weren't given freedom to screw up, so I created a neighborhood of free-range parents. I also made use of free-range parents in my story coming out next, "Teenage Dirtbag." That story I set in the 1980s, when (it at least feels to me) teens could often get away with a lot more than they can today.
So if you're considering writing a crime story involving children/teenagers, keep in mind that what the kids do can largely be influenced by the kind of parenting style at work in the minor's home. Parents can make just as many mistakes as children can. We crime writers should take advantage of it.
I'll write more about "Teenage Dirtbag" when it comes out. For now, if you'd like to read "Real Courage," you can buy issue 14 of Black Cat Mystery Magazine or, for a limited time, you can read "Real Courage" on my website. Just click here.
As this is my final post of 2023, I wish you all happy holidays.

16 March 2014

The Long Sulk

I have a 14-year-old boy Donnie (not his real name) and his father living in my house. Jan Grape’s written about her ‘alien’, her grandson, but presumably to have a grandchild, she must have had children. I haven’t had that experience.

If you’ve ever seen the Greg Daniels / Mike Judge television series, King of the Hill, Donnie bears an uncanny resemblance to the cartoon character Bobby Hill in looks and personality. At least he looked that six months ago, he’s shot up another few inches since. The comparison to Bobby is so strong, that his classmates tease him with the name, which naturally he hates. But Bobby, er Donnie, is a gentle, kind boy. At heart, both lads are decent and both find it difficult to lie. The London Free Press claims Bobby Hill "arguably was the most interesting, complex and in some ways 'real' kid in TV." I can't argue otherwise.
A shock came learning about today’s modern school system. It’s no longer drop below 70 and you fail, then repeat until you get it right. Failing is now defined below 50, but not even that: So that we don’t bruise the fragile egos of our most important children (student athletes), even grades of 0 are awarded 50%.

If enough classmates fail Spanish, then the tests are considered defective and the class passes automatically though they can’t translate ‘Buenos dias’. (There's a joke there.) Politicians rather than educators are
meddling in the system.

Intestinal Fortitude

As you might imagine, a teenage boy eats a LOT. McDonald’s rolls in an extra supply truck when he visits. More than once we've had conversations that run like "Where's the frozen dinner pack I just bought? The package said it serves eight." "Oh, I had that for after school snack." "What about the roast beef?" "It was only two pounds, but great on rye."

Like Bobby, Donnie’s a surprisingly good cook although his only acceptable vegetable is French fries. Oddly, he despises leftovers, which is a problem because his dad deliberately cooks food in advance to eat when he's not around. Donnie calls leftovers “old food” and won't touch them. Think I’m kidding? I have found five opened jars of peanut butter and a sixth about to be violated.

Likewise, he’ll use a third of a tube of toothpaste or half a bottle of shampoo and refuse to use any more. What’s with that? His dad compounded the situation when he added ‘old shampoo’ from a pink (yes, pink!) bottle into the new Brut Shampoo for Men. Horrified, Donnie switched over to using my shampoo, not as Brutish, but still masculine.

Back to food: The downside of his gastronomical adventuring is breath-stopping biogas production. Here we come to another peculiarity: He doesn’t like to visit any ‘facilities’ other than his own bathroom. That means all through the school day, he stores and composts everything from the previous 24 hours.

I don’t know what organic chemistry goes on inside his large intestine, but ever been around construction sites with large, belching earth-moving equipment? Recall the rumbles, the growls, the grinds, explosions and fizzles? All that occurs before the kid's load of a dozen fragrant water buffalos empties into a straining septic system.

There could be a positive side. His dad won’t let him near girls at this point, but I think his concerns might be mitigated if he considered potential on-line personal ads: “Likes candlelit dinners, long walks on the beach, and frequent flatulence.” So much for romance.


I know parents who think boys need to be toughened up, not shown affection and not comforted when they're hurt. I'd like to smack such parents. His dad's long-term girlfriend constantly calls Donnie a liar and a loser. She doesn't like Donnie… at… all. Lying isn't something Donnie does easily or well. It tears him up. Like Bobby, he has a strong sense of honor and lying doesn't fit that image, which the lady doesn't grasp.

The dad's girlfriend dotes on her own, very pretty, talented daughters, but she disdains Donnie often to the point of omitting him from extended family events. When one of the girls recently won an award, Donnie wasn't invited– not cool enough it seemed.

When Donnie was excluded from another event, I shoved him in the car and took him to a new neighborhood Japanese restaurant. It wasn't the same as spending time with the family unit, but he tried Japanese food for the first time and loved it. He tested something new instead of sitting in his room pretending he wasn't crying his heart out. So far we've tried Greek, Chinese, Mexican, and Cuban foods. When shut out, eat out.

Mood Machine

Like Bobby Hill, the lad's not athletic although he's a good shot, as his ROTC instructor learned. Nonetheless, Donnie excels at certain olympic events, such as the Long Sulk. I switch to my sportscaster voice:
“Donnie represents team USA this week, going for the record now held by the young Russian, Uvreli Pismiof. Uvreli’s record is 42 days, 14 hours and 10 minutes, but young Donnie has positioned himself as the current challenger. His patented scowl in place, Donnie hunches over his bowl, glaring at the wildly cheering crowds. Wait… We thought we saw a quiver of his lip… yes, there it is again… It doesn’t qualify as a full-fledged smile… but hold on… While the judges are reviewing the tape, the seconds continue to tick… 8, 9, 10, 11… YES! Ladies and gentlemen, a new world record!”
Those of us who’ve worked in offices have noticed women knowingly roll their eyes and whisper about some colleague “It’s her time of the month.” Let me tell you folks, they haven't experienced a 14-year-old boy. Around here it’s his time of the minute. Emotions erupt faster than a sour-tempered Tasmanian tantrum.

Donnie's unusually prim. He avoids sexual topics with his friends and won't look at nekked photos. (It's been suggested he was exposed to sexuality when he was quite young and this may be a reaction.)

I’ve never before heard Donnie swear, but the other day over the most minor incident, he told me “ƒ you.” Whoa! I didn’t tell him I was more amused than angry, but I superseded parental authority and confiscated his new bicycle, Play Station, pellet gun, newly purchased hunting/fishing knife, and NetFlix. It’s taken him a few days to apologize, but last evening he wrote me a contrite note. So far, only his bicycle's been returned, but good for him.

Death Threats

When upset, he tries a ploy that may have succeeded with his parents, slamming doors, punching walls, and shouting, “I'm going to run away.” I said, “No kidding! Do you want dessert first? Mmm mm, chocolate mousse. We'll give your room to a little girl named Ruthie who smells like strawberry candy floss and will replace your Call-of-Duty posters and baseball caps with pink pony decorations.” “Seriously?” He looked stricken.

Then he upped the ante. “I’m going to kill myself.” The first time, I dryly said, “Okay, just do it quietly. This is a no-wake zone.” He looked at me in disbelief, then burst out laughing.

So far, my other responses to that challenge have been:
  • Wow, like Moaning Myrtle. You’ll have to live in a loo where kids barfed in the sink and peed on the floor and the walls turned slimy green.
  • Not again! Shouldn’t you plan something new this week?
  • Sticking your head in an oven won’t work. If you can survive your own flatulence, nothing will do you in. Besides, our stove is electric.
  • Really? Leave a note on the fridge so we can identify the new odour in your room.
  • Man, you’re so lucky! You won’t have to worry about that first kiss thing with Abbie or Leona or Ishtar. And who’s that other girl who liked you since forever and her mother told her to marry someone like you? They’re so cute, but they might get annoyed.
  • Don’t make a mess. We’ll have to stop dinner to clean up and the garbage men complained recently. Can you pass the peas?
  • Cool! We could turn you into a mummy. The Egyptians did really neat things with bodies. They stuffed your innards in Canopic jars and they used special tools to pull your brains out through your nostrils. Their funeral guys preserved bodies with natron, which made them flammable. Not a lot of firewood could be found in the desert, so when trekkers needed a fire at night, they dug up a mummy and lit it. That would be so cool to try. Wait until we order natron from K-Mart.
  • No! I hate it when bits and pieces of body parts lie around all sticky with blood dripping from the walls. The pancreas and gall bladder are slimy, with so much gall your mother will have to clean up.
  • In this Florida heat, intestines rot from the inside out, your belly will expand and bloat, and you’ll explode all over the place causing squirrels to run for cover. How stinky and messy that is. When your friends visit and ask where you are, we’ll have to say everywhere.
  • EPA will come with biohazard suits and pick up pieces with tweezers they’ll stick in blue plastic barrels to bury in hazardous waste dumps in Bithlo. Can you imagine having an address for all eternity in Bithlo? Since no one can visit, they’ll mark your barrel on GPS. Other than that, how’s school?
  • Wow, that’s exciting. Death by peanut butter is really sticky. Jelly might be better if you remember to wash afterwards. A friend told me about death by sugar. If you fall into a huge pile of sugar, you sink to the bottom and as you try to breathe, you suck in nothing but more sugar until you choke, gag, and literally drown in it. One guy wasn’t discovered for more than a week when the rats found him, but not before most of the sugar was used in Kool-Aid.
I dramatized this last with my hands around my throat, gasping for breath. Nothing like a crime writer to turn a kid green, although I think he now threatens to see what I’ll say next.

Don’t criticize me– I’m winging it. Parents out there… what’s your advice?

Series created by Mike Judge and Greg Daniels. Production: Film Roman, 3 Arts Entertainment, Deedle-Dee Productions, Judgemental Films. Distribution: 20th Century Fox Television. Copyrights and trademarks property of their respective owners. Blue barrels from Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom, Allentown, Pennsylvania; photo credit: Theme Park Review.

10 October 2011

An Alien in my House

Okay, I'll admit that sounds more like a sci-fy story than a mystery but I can explain. This alien landed on our planet in 1993 and quickly wormed his way into our heart. It took him a long time to learn to speak English but he did finally master it. Now every morning I'm greeted by "Whatsssup?"
In fact, he says it sometimes three or four times a day. "Whatsssup, Nana?"

My explanation. I have two black cats, Nick and Nora who have lived with me for fourteen years, we're comfortable with each other. The alien?? Is one of my grandsons, an eighteen year old grandson, Cason by name, has just moved into my new house with me. He's like many young people nowadays, just not exactly sure what he wants to do with his life. Tried really hard to mess up his life by dropping out of school when he only has half a semester left until graduation. He already admits that was one of the biggest mistakes he could have made and is getting prepared to take his GED so that if he decides to go to college he'll be ready. At the moment, he's working at a car wash in town for minimum wages and he does know he doesn't want to do that the rest of his life.

Of course the alien part to me is that I haven't lived with a teenager in many years. My oldest are in the youth of middle age and everything is quite different than it was when they were teens and of course totally unbelievable (to them) when I was in my teens. No believes I walked to school and back uphill both ways in twelve inches of snow. Okay, that was a bit of fiction, but I actually walked in sandstorms so heavy that I had to go to restroom to wash the dirt off my face and had to grit it in my mouth half the day. But I digress...

It has been fun being around Cason. He's good-looking, funny, smart, charming and full of life and himself. He's part man and still part child although he's around 6 feet 3 inches tall. I'll admit it's so much easier dealing with a grandson than a son or daughter. Having that generation gap makes most of what he does seem like, "I've been there, done that, and bought the T-shirt," and doesn't upset me. Much.

I'm learning again what teenagers like and don't like, and a little about how they think which certainly will help me next time I want to create a teenage character. In my most recent book, What Doesn't Kill You, Cory was sixteen except she lived so far out in the boonies they didn't have cell phones or computers. Today's teens have no concept of life without iPhones or iPods. They are totally fluent in cyber technology and how computers work. That's what they've grown up with and it is second nature to them to "Google" for information. I want to reach for a dictionary or an encyclopedia and while I'm looking something up, Cason has already found it on Google.

Music is so different now than when my daughter and sons were teens. They were into The Beatles, Heart, The Eagles and the music of the 70s and 80s. Cason is into rap and rap and more rap and there's something he calls "the beat." None of it sounds like music to me, but I'll admit my music is boring to him. He has an iPod and those earplugs in his ears all day and all night. He'll pull one side out to listen to me and to talk to me, then put it back in and is quickly back to moving his body to the beat.

He doesn't watch TV, can't sit still long enough for most TV shows. Things have to move fast, be action packed. Attention spans are not very long for teenage boy-men. He loves junk food: chips, dips, taquitoes, corn dogs. pizza rolls and pizza. He will eat a Caesar salad if pressed to eat some vegetables. He loves to be with his friends constantly and fortunately is able to make friends easily. He loves to "chill" as he calls relaxing. One of the new words cropping up lately from adults is "chillaxing." I'm sure a teen thought of it first.

Cason has lived in the Nashville, TN area most of his life and that's too far away from Central TX for overnight visits so we've not been together often or for very long at any given time. So I'm getting to know this alien in my house and am enjoying every minute of this bonding experience. I definitely can see that my alien may still be a mystery to me, but I'm learning more every day.

Now if I can get him to sit still long enough so I can't pick up more of his lingo. I definitely want my teenage characters to sound like teenagers.