Is The 'Heartstopper' Graphic Novel Series Appropriate For Tweens?

You may have heard a lot about Heartstopper, a series of graphic novels by Alice Oseman about high school students falling in love. This popular series — upon which Netflix based its popular show of the same name — tackles issues like first kisses, romance, queer love, bullying, and consent. To be very clear, this article is *not* about whether the queerness of Heartstopper is appropriate for tweens. Queerness is appropriate for everyone! But it is for parents wondering how much romance is in this romantic graphic novel… and is it too, ahem, graphic for a tween?

As with all things parenting, the answer is pretty subjective.

All young-adult graphic novels, the Heartstopper series gears toward teenagers/high school students as the audience. YA books, in general, will depict experiences relatable to the teen audience. In some cases, topics or subject matter may be too mature for tweens, especially younger ones.

In the case of Heartstopper, Common Sense Media rates both Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 as being for ages 14 and up, but most reviewers on Amazon say 12 and up. The only novel that gets a higher age rating, 15 and up, is Vol. 5 because the topic of sex and condoms comes up. Most customers on Amazon rate this one 14 and up.

See what I mean about subjective?

In truth, there is no “correct” answer or age. It’s more about what you think your kids are interested in (it’s a teen romance novel, after all) and if you’ve had any kind of sex and relationship talk with them yet. I’ve known kids who want to talk about having boyfriends or girlfriends in 4th grade and others who have no interest until after high school. Ultimately, the romantic element of the relationships and dealing with peer acceptance skews more toward a teen audience, but that’s not to say some tweens won’t be swept up in it.

But if we think of tweens as ages 10 to 12 — with some kids feeling tweenager-y as young as 9 — there are some elements in Heartstopper that parents will want to be aware of.

I’ve personally read the first book in the series and didn’t find anything that I’d deem inappropriate for a younger teenager or a tween. I found it sweet: The beginning of any relationship and the flutters that come with it — all in all, a very positive message that also helps to normalize queer love, too. However, in the beginning, the main character is in an abusive relationship, so this could be a trigger or confusing for some kids.

Similar to the question, ‘When can a child be left alone?’ it is dependent on the specific child’s state of development and emotional maturity,” says Jonathan Smith, MA., MS., PD., LMFT, the founder and executive director of The Center for Family Wellness in Emerson, New Jersey. I always recommend that parents read or watch the material first.”

As Smith reminds us, you can ask yourself a very important question: “Does your child have a healthy understanding of what a respectful and caring relationship looks like already? If so, they would be better able to contextualize ones that are not perfect if they already have a strong model. In any case, it is always beneficial to help tweens and teens process this material and then discuss the content openly.”

Parent to parent, you’re going to want to take Smith’s advice on this one. Because I promise you, you will devour these books. They are fast reads, beautifully executed, and offer a powerful message about standing up for yourself even when (or maybe especially when) the abuser is the popular kid. You’ll be waiting anxiously for the next volume to arrive.

You just might have to fight your kid to get to it first.

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