BookTok and Healthy Relationships

We are rounding out Adolescent Health Month and National Mental Health Awareness Month and wanted to talk about the importance of healthy relationships, especially for teens. As many of you may know, BookTok is a well-known sub-section of TikTok and the most talked about genre on BookTok is romance. Some popular books on BookTok include Icebreaker by Hannah Grace or The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han. BookTok has a very large audience which means the books that when a book becomes popular, many people read it. Although it has led to us reading more books, there are ways in which certain topics are shown within these books that are important to be aware of, especially for teens. For example, popular books on BookTok have had negative impacts on our definition of healthy relationships. 

It is important for teens to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships. Overall 76% of teens report experiencing emotional and psychological abuse during relationships. In addition, there's a 1 in 3 chance that a young person will experience being in an abusive relationship. Although the authors of popular romance books may not be thinking about their impacts on teen readers when they write them, it is important that we don’t normalize or glorify unhealthy relationships so we are going to break down some of the ways these relationships depicted in popular books are unhealthy.

 Firstly, the highly popular romance book It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover gained its popularity from BookTok. In it, Lily Bloom, the protagonist, moves on from her traumatic childhood and explores new relationships. In the book, Lily describes her relationship with her husband: “Just because someone hurts you doesn't mean you can simply stop loving them. It's not a person's actions that hurt the most. It's the love. If there was no love attached to the action, the pain would be a little easier to bear” (Hoover 321). This book, similar to many popular within BookTok, normalizes unhealthy relationships and romanticizes abuse to its reader by showing that love should hurt.  It Ends With Us glamorizes manipulating and gaslighting in relationships which not only puts down the experiences of victims but also makes us think that these relationships are the norm. Another romance book made popular by TikTok, The Love Hypothesis, by Ali Hazelwood is about a fake relationship between a graduate student and her professor that evolves into a real one. During the novel, the protagonist Olive Smith narrates her thoughts on their relationship: “I'm starting to wonder if this is what being in love is. Being okay with ripping yourself to shreds, so the other person can stay whole” (Hazelwood 302). Similar to Hoover, Hazelwood romanticizes putting your partner’s needs over your own. This is a harmful concept to teach to teens because it is harmful to both partners. It is important to remember that self-care isn’t selfish and both people’s needs are important in a relationship. One person should not have to put themself down, change who they are, or tear themselves apart for the benefit of the other person. Additionally, there is a power difference between a professor and a student. Consent must be freely given which means that if one person has more power than the other person, for example if one person is a teacher or boss, then the other person may feel pressured to do things they don’t want to so they may not be able to give consent freely.

Overall, the recent popularity of BookTok influences teens’ mental health and our ideas of healthy and unhealthy relationships. These relationships continue to be romanticized and normalized. It is ok to enjoy reading the books but instead of continuing this cycle of romanticization, it is important to be critical of what you are reading. Do your research on healthy and unhealthy relationships from trusted resources like TeenSource. Healthy relationships should have communication, respect, trust, equality, boundaries, consent and support.  For more information on healthy relationships, check out the  National Domestic Violence Hotline and Love Is Respect. When you read a romance book, think about how the relationships in the books may be healthy or unhealthy. You can also start conversations with your friends or other people on BookTok to talk about how relationships are shown in these books and what parts are healthy or unhealthy. This allows you to develop a different perspective on healthy and unhealthy relationships and to cultivate your own opinions.