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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 12th September 2011

The sub-heading for all these blog pages uses the word ‘ramblings’ and I think this is likely to be one of ramblier examples because it brings together the high winds currently affecting northern parts of the UK, novels aimed at teenagers and what their subject matter should include and my favourite subject, being as true as you can about the effects of plant-derived substances.

Let’s start with the high winds. For some days, the UK Met Office has been warning about high winds as the ‘remains of Hurricane Katia’ arrive over the UK. The high winds were expected to be both strong and gusting and an amber warning was issued for the area thought to be likely to experience the highest winds. Areas to the north and south were subject to a yellow warning but no red warning was issued.

I’ve pointed that out because a number of UK papers didn’t worry about the warning levels and, presumably, didn’t have enough ink for the words ‘remains of’ so they reported that Hurricane Katia was on the way. This almost certainly subjected people to an unnecessary level of worry about the damage the storm might cause and could have been quite distressing for some.

But who is to blame? Knowing that the papers would be no better than they ever are, was the Met Office wrong to even mention Hurricane Katia? On the other hand, was the official view that the papers would bring up the hurricane so it would be better to get the ‘remains of’ out there in the hope that it would stop at least some of the over the top speculation. You can never be sure that what you say is the same as what people hear so, perhaps, you should ensure that you can say you told the truth and can’t be responsible for what people do with it.

And that brings us to books aimed at teenagers. At some point, someone in the publishing industry decided that teenagers don’t read books so the term ‘young adult’ came into being. From that, in what I assume is another manifestation of the shortage of ink (I knew the oil was running out why hasn’t anybody mentioned the ink?), that term became ‘YA’. I’ve explained that so you know what YA means if you come across it but I won’t use it myself.

I came across a discussion about how realistic books for teenagers set in recent history should be. The example that formed the centre of the discussion was a book about the experiences of a fictional young Jewish boy during the Second World War. Some voices felt that, whilst fiction was a valid way to introduce this dark subject to a generation whose grandparents weren’t alive at the time, it was wrong to be too graphic about the lives that were lost and it was especially wrong to finish the book in a downbeat way.

I’ve never been a parent so I have no way of knowing what a terrible mess I would have made of it but my core view is that you should tell the truth to children and teenagers but not force it on them. A book telling about the horrors of Nazi Germany and the ‘final solution’ shouldn’t shy away from basing its story squarely on the facts of that terrible time but someone setting out to read it should have an idea of what to expect so they can decide if they want to learn more about that terrible time. If they have made a mature decision to apply themselves to a difficult subject, I don’t think the author should then downplay the true extent of the evil mankind is capable of doing.

There’s a danger in giving teenagers misinformation; they may believe it, if they have no other source to present a different view, and that leaves them operating on a false premise of some kind or they may disbelieve it because it contradicts what they heard from other sources and that destroys the bond of credibility between teenagers and adults.

It’s a constant theme of mine that telling lies to teenagers about psychoactive substances destroys any hope there might be of getting them to deal with this substances in a way that minimises the risks to which the teenagers are exposed.

It saddens me to realise that, sometimes, the misinformation offered to teenagers is not due to any misplaced desire to spare them from details the adult decides are beyond their ability to accept but is purely aimed at commercial advantage for those associated with the publication.