Can I just say: what is this safe young-adult fiction? OK, I don't have kids, and haven't paid much attention to the YA fiction of today. But back in my day, when YA fiction was chiseled onto blocks and hauled into the agora by mules, a hell of a lot of it was not "safe" at all. In fact it was downright lurid in comparison to adult fiction. For example, I remember a book called Run [Drat, what was the protagonist's name? I can picture the book cover--a teen with long blond hair, wearing a black turtleneck and looking warily over her shoulder for reasons which became only too apparent], Run. That book was pure pornography. My mother evidently agreed, belatedly, as the book disappeared from my shelf at some point and was never seen or mentioned again. And that wasn't the only example. By comparison, the fiction of Joyce Carol Oates, or even Stephen King, is redemptive.
Parents push young-adult fiction because it's safe. But protecting kids from sex, death and adult themes is wrong
Though I was a rather sheltered child, I managed to read--either surreptitiously or in the amber light of my mother's weary approval--Jaws, The Exorcist, and Carrie, not to mention the subversive Judy Bloom, and a lot of other quite questionable stuff. Oh, and Dracula. I was, for the most part, not allowed to watch movies of the same ilk (I got to read Jaws in exchange for not seeing the movie), and I pretty much agree with that decision now. There's something about the visual assault of violent movies that doesn't occur when you're reading, although imagination can sometimes make things worse, generating images and sensations that linger creepily in your system.
But I do take McGreevy's point: "perverse and puritanical an instinct as there is in this culture to prolong childhood, there is a far stronger counter-instinct in children to analyze, simulate, and as soon as humanly possible participate in the challenges of adulthood." And: "They are entitled to learn about it at exactly the rate it is appropriate to their individual moral development to do so." I think my own dark, semi-taboo reading experiences were somehow validating at a time when I needed validation. I was not the chirpiest, chipperest kid (unlike now!), and these books told me I was not alone in sensing something was seriously wrong out there. The books were scary, but oddly reassuring.