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Are Bella and Edward good role models?

Published on: November 01, 2009

Lisa Plancich is a Lake Forest Park mom and Girl Scout leader.

TwilightWith the anticipation of the next Twilight movie, rabid fans are gobbling up movie theatre pre-ticket sales. Twilight is hot. Edward is tantalizing. And millions of girls would love to be in Bella’s shoes.
Being a mom, and having read the series, I have my reservations about this book and movie series chronicling the lives of vampires, werewolves and humans residing in Forks, WA.

I’ve read all four of the Twilight series books, and I am a huge fan. The books are fun and well-written. I walked away highly entertained and totally adoring Edward. Knowing that he was a mature (100-year-old), well-educated older man locked in a 17-year-old’s body allowed me to be totally at ease with the “ick factor” of me crushing on a younger guy.

After having to confiscate a few Twilight books when our Girl Scout meetings were being upstaged by the goings-on of Bella and Edward, I decided I should educate myself on all things Twilight.
The books come highly recommended by educators, and for good reason. There is no unmarried sex in the books. There are no drugs in the books. Yes, the books include some violence, but there is no foul language used. Further, Edward is old-fashioned (because he’s old) and respectful of Bella’s innocence.

Still, my initial take on Edward was pretty negative. Although I had heard that I would fall in love with this character, I just didn’t get him. During the first three-quarters of Twilight, Edward - although smitten with Bella - is not always nice to her. Actually there are many instances where he is rude, neglectful, controlling, and comes off as horribly self-centered.

In the beginning, Bella doesn’t know Edward is a vampire. He spends most of his time oscillating between mood swings, ranging from gallant savior to irritated teenage boy to rude, ignoring adolescent. He attempts to be nice, then barks out a rude comment. He saves Bella’s life and follows up by making her feel like she’s somehow deranged in her recollection of events. He flirts with her, and then tells her he’s no good for her and that she should stay away from him.

As he begins to acknowledge his feelings for Bella, Edward begins to stalk her – convinced that Bella is somehow in constant danger. He watches over her, tracks her down and follows her constantly.
When friends and family witness relationship behavior such as unkindness, neglect, control and rudeness, we hope the girl will have enough sense to stay away from him. If she doesn’t realize this boy is treating her wrong, it’s time for someone to step in. In the case of Twilight and its sequel, New Moon, Bella’s friends and her father let her know that Edward looks at her like he’s going to have her for lunch.

Bella however, “knows” Edward. Despite concerns from everyone else who cares about her, Bella trudges on into a relationship that proves to be over-the-top dangerous.
We all know that this is a story with mythical characters. What young readers may not take into account, however, is that it is extremely easy to justify the advances of a handsome boy while dismissing his ruder traits. We know a young girl is not going to date a vampire. But how quickly will an adolescent girl accept unkindness and control because Bella accepted it?

In fact, many teenage boys tend to be neglectful or annoying to teenage girls. It’s often joked that when a boy likes you he will start to bug or irritate you. Edward’s behavior takes this to extremes. I worry that teenage girls (with their still-developing minds) may see this, then justify this behavior in real life because the hero in her four-book series did the exact same thing.
Abuse among teen boyfriends is high, and girls are too prone to rationalize and defend a boyfriend’s abusive behavior. Diane Sutton, head of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) policy and public affairs told the British online news service "It is shocking to find so many young people view violence or abuse in relationships as normal. Boys and girls are under immense peer pressure to behave in certain ways and this can lead to disrespectful and violent relationships, with girls often bearing the brunt."

Break the Cycle, an organization committed to preventing dating violence, states the following as signs of an abusive relationship:
“Extreme jealousy or insecurity, constant put-downs, possessiveness or acting like they own you, telling you what to do, explosive temper, isolating you from your friends and family and preventing you from doing things you want to do.”
In the first book Edward shows possessiveness by wanting to keep an eye on Bella all the time. He has an explosive tempter toward her and gets easily irritated. Because Bella tends to be clumsy, he is annoyed that she tends to trip and fall. He bursts out, “Can’t you watch where you are going?”

When Edward begins to fall for Bella, he keeps a stalker-like vigil over her. He goes into her backyard and secretly watches her read, take a nap and wander into the forest. Later he sneaks into her room to watch her while she sleeps. Readers of these books probably find this a true testament of his vampire love for her. To a parent, however, some punk is breaking into their home to watch their daughter sleep. Edward thinks he can protect Bella (and her police officer father can’t).

Bella is flattered that this gorgeous young man is madly in love with her, thinks it’s wonderful that he’s breaking into her home and watching her while she sleeps. How will it be perceived by a teenage girl whose average, non-vampire boyfriend smuggles his way into her home? Let’s hope she is grossed out and sees this as a violation of boundaries.

Bella finds herself isolated, having to choose between her friends and her vampire boyfriend. She becomes completely disinterested in her peer group. She keeps secrets from her father and mother. Finally, Edward manipulates Bella into doing things she does not necessarily want to do like race through forests, riding in a speeding car, purposefully makes her dizzy and nauseous and makes her go to her prom.

Statistics from the US consistently state that far too many women are beaten, coerced into having sex or otherwise abused at some stage during their lives. Other abusive relationship statistics indicate that domestic violence is still the single biggest threat of injury to women. This threat is bigger than heart attacks, cancer, strokes, car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined.
Teens want relationships. They crave attention. Their chemical make-up allows for clueless and rude adolescents to consume their entire life. There are countless books and real-life stories about girls who “love him” and therefore justify negative and abusive behavior in order to stay in a relationship rather than be alone.

Although these are not reasons to have your son or daughter abstain from reading this book series, these statistics are reasons parents need to be involved in what their kids are reading. The Twilight books are part of our popular culture. Two movies have been spawned by the books and two more will come out. This is what our teens are viewing and reading. Parents need to know what is going into their kids’ minds.

The boy your daughter is going to date will not find her attractive because her blood smells delicious. He will be attracted to her for other reasons. Being a typical boy he will begin to pay attention to her in the traditional ways boys meet girls. He will bug her to get her attention. He will ignore her when he wants to feel cool around her.
These boys will be young, immature, basic boys who will ignore, bother and have sex on the brain. They will drive cars too fast (without the vampire reflexes). They will not be stealth-like. They won’t be able to use their hand to stop a truck from crushing someone. And they probably will not insist, while their girlfriend is trying to take off her clothes, to wait to have sex when they are married.

For all these reasons, parents need to be involved in their child’s lives. Read what your kids are reading. Watch the movies your kids are watching. Similar interests spark conversation. Talks about books and pop culture can give you an opportunity to give parental insight without being obtrusive. You might even be viewed as cool.

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