You've got two children and you have to pay for their childcare, health insurance, food, clothing, and entertainment. - This could be the opening line (OK a really boring one) to the scariest YA novel ever sold.
This week I chaperoned an 8th grade field trip to the Junior Achievement Finance Park Facility. This is a program that puts middle schoolers (that hot YA audience) through a simulation where they are given an adult identity complete with family status, job, salary, debt owed, and level of education. They are then sent out into the facility that looks like a movie set of a mall, and told to research what it costs to live in the real world. They then are tasked to set a budget based on their family needs, shop for items, and pay for bills.
I was working with a mixed group of teen boys and girls and our home store represented health insurance. I know most adults don't understand health care costs, let a lone a group of fourteen-year-olds. But what they did "get" and expressed loud and clear is that having children is expensive.
"Can I sell the kids?" "Instead of buying an expensive bed, can I have the kid sleep in a chair, it's cheaper?" "My kids don't need a lot of clothes and we can rent videos instead of going out." And my favorite, "Wow, if have one kid instead of two I save a bunch on insurance."
I think this exercise was more powerful than having a sex education talk with the kids about the horrors of teen pregnancy. Money represents freedom and material wealth to this age group.
And though I'm not writing a YA novel at the moment, I do feel I got a rare view inside the mind of this audience. Unexpected research - always a bonus of being a volunteer.