The above cartoon is pretty funny. Mostly, because it's true. We've all read the young adult novels where the parents are dead, too busy to supervise, or just too uncaring or ditzy to look into what's up with the protagonist. On one hand, this makes sense. Most YA stories are about the main character finding his/her own strength and taking control of his/her own life. The protectiveness of parents and guardians can be an impediment to this journey. Beyond that writers of YA have been told that adults are boring, slow down the action, and add unwanted complications. And yet, most teens have to make their real-life journey of self-discovery--with their own real life pressures--while dealing with their real life parents or guardians, so wouldn't the presence of these parents or guardians be more relatable? In fact, there are a few good arguments for why YA could use some living, concerned, though not fake-perfect, parents.
It's Been Done to Death--Sometimes both parents are missing in young adult fiction, but often it's the mom that's been killed off. I think that's because fathers were once considered the less "active" parent, and you didn't want your main character running home to tell mommy when things got bad. Having a loving mom doesn't make for adventures--just ask any Disney princess. Although the decision to kill off one or both parents can pave the way for character responsibility, opening up greater freedoms, it's also been, as this NYT article points out, done to death. And with any overused plot device or trope, this detail feels less like reality and more like a convenience, creating little character sympathy and making your story seem hollow. Trying something different, creating a very normal, every day relationship between guardians/parents and teens with the obstacles this naturally brings about can strengthen your skills as a writer in addition to giving your characters and their world more dimensions.
Missed Opportunity--Adding in a responsible parent in your YA story doesn't necessarily mean you need to create the perfect parent. The key here is real. Real parents yell, get distracted, try and fail to help--all of these things can add an interesting layer to character and to your character's life. Eliminating real parents in YA as author, Kait Nolan points out in her article, Where are the parents in YA Fiction?, can be a "missed opportunity for conflict." Having a parent that cares about their child doesn't mean that you need someone there that is always solving your protagonist's problems. That's as unbelievable as some of the YA parents that are unable to even cook for themselves. But having a parent that is a genuine character, flawed, overreaching, and still caring can add to conflict, plot, and character development. In my novel, MIND TRAVELER, my male protagonist has a very caring father. His father gives him advice, discusses things with him, embarrasses him, and makes real trouble. He also helps his son at a key moment, advancing, not hindering, the plot.
Balance--If you're writing a dystopian or time travel novel the world itself can be dangerous and unstable enough that adding in loving parents and guardians helps to balance things out. It can give the sense of some real world continuity, that there's someone running the ship even though the ship might be taking on water. So your main character may be dealing with traveling through time in your dystopian novel (don't knock it until you've tried it), but they still have to be accountable for getting their chores done and for taking care of their younger siblings.
So the next time you have a weak plot, motivation, or character issues you might want to go running home to mommy.