Middle Grade Characters and Trust in Authority Figures

I don’t have an MMGM review today, although this post was inspired by a middle grade book–one I’m not going to name because it would lead to a bit of a spoiler.

Here’s the situation: The main character places her trust in two adults who turn out to be the bad guys.

Why did she trust them? Because another adult she already trusted vouched for them. When there were clues that these characters weren’t what they seemed, she ignored them, in large part because of this reference. It turns out the adult she trusted was deceived, too.

I think this stuck out to me in large part because of Frank Cole’s WriteOnCon vlog about middle grade boys. In it, he said that most 8 to 12-year-olds respect authority figures. I would take this a step further and say that unless they have had some kind of experience to make them wary, they typically trust authority figures, too.

This adds an interesting layer to writing middle grade fiction that you may not have with young adult and adult. Because if kids instinctively trust adults who appear trustworthy (we can throw out suspicious characters like Professor Snape), there’s an opportunity to lull young characters into quite a trap. A friendly smile and helpful attitude can easily overcome the average kid’s caution. I’m not saying they’re going to jump in a car with a random adult–the world has taught them that’s not ok–but in the right setting, a writer could really use this instinctive trust to her advantage. Ahem.

Anyway, it’s a good reminder for me, because I’m suspicious of every little nuance in a story. I’m looking for the people who aren’t everything they seem. But in real life, the average kid isn’t looking for a reason not to trust people. It’s just something to keep in mind. An adult authority figure who doesn’t want to be unmasked as the bad guy could probably have a pretty good run of it.

Do you think kids mostly trust adults? Or are they getting more suspicious these days?

Responses to “Middle Grade Characters and Trust in Authority Figures”

  1. Andrea

    Interesting post, Michelle! It makes me think about how the adult perspective is different from the kid one, and how hard it can be to capture that as a writer. I do think that kids do mostly trust adults and that more mistrust creeps in as teens get more life experiences.

    • Michelle I. Mason

      Yes, I need that reminder every once in a while. For most kids, the world is a much more innocent place than we perceive. My kids help me remember that, too.

  2. Akoss

    I think you’re right. Unless they’ve had a bad experience or anything similar around adults most kids tend to trust first.

  3. Gina

    Hmm – I think in real life, kids trust authority figures. But in some of my favorite stories, they encounter more shady adults, and learn to use their own judgment. And rebel!


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