The Catcher in the Rye written by J.D. Salinger follows the tale of Holden, a 16-year-old boy, through his transition from adolescence to adulthood. This novel echoed feelings from my childhood as it may have with most teenagers. Holden is a lost and confused boy who can never seem to fit in, he is rebellious in his attempts to be independent and suffers from various emotional issues such as feelings of loneliness and depression. There are also references to sexual urges within this book despite Holden being a virgin. This book really paints a picture of how hard life can be for teenagers, but you have rights to help and various services available, there is no need to carry everything on your shoulders. Whilst this novel is based in America, the rights will be discussed as if Holden was living in Wales.

Mental Health in Catcher in the Rye

Throughout this novel there are many references to mental health issues, for example, where Holden broke all the windows in the garage after his brothers death, multiple references to feelings of loneliness and depression and even mention of suicide after the fight with Maurice. These feelings can be difficult to grapple with as a young person, more so when you don’t want to get your parents all ‘hysterical’ like Holden.  Such feelings are not uncommon however, it has been proven that children given little choice and those living in a city are more likely to be lonely. Such statistics are increased when considering the current COVID-19 situation, whereby children aged 16 and over in the United Kingdom reported feeling “often or always” lonely (ONS). Depression is also rising in young persons aged 5 – 19 with a report showing that 5.8% of such persons suffered this in 2017.  This means that if you feel you suffer any of the feelings which Holden did, it is not uncommon and you should not feel you can’t turn to anyone. You should try and speak to your parents, a GP or your school/college, such persons will refer you to a Primary Mental Health Team or Specialist CAHMS. In addition to these, there are multiple organisations and services such as Young Minds or the Samaritans which offer free phone calls at any time on 116 123.  If you decide to visit a GP, you can visit alone without an adult present if preferred, although an adult may need to consent to treatment on your behalf if you are not deemed to adequately understand the treatment and thus are not Gillick competent. As a child you have many rights which will allow you to both access healthcare and for your views to be heard and respected, below are the key United Nationals on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) articles:

  • Article 3 – The best interests of the child must be a top priority in all decisions and actions that affect children.
  • Article 4 – The State must do all they can to promote and protect children’s rights.
  • Article 12 – The right to express your views, feelings and matters which affect you.
  • Article 24 – The right to the best possible health and healthcare.

Independence / Rebellion

Holden appears to be a rebellious teen which can be demonstrated by him leaving multiple schools, most notably Pencey Prep whereby he heads into the city and stays at a hotel. Holden is also 16 years old, but he smokes a lot and there are instances where he consumes alcohol, like at Ernie’s. Holden therefore seems to be quite rebellious in many points in this novel, however, on a closer inspection, this may be due to his attempts to be independent. Holden does not enjoy school nor does it seem he enjoys being at home, but does Holden’s attempts to be rebellious have legal grounding? Holden’s parents have responsibility for him until he is 18 years old but once you’re 16 (like Holden) you are old enough to make a decision to move out of home on your own without being forced to go home. Whilst your parents, social workers or teachers may try to persuade you to go home, no one can make you. Regarding school, you should be at school or educated in some other way and will have to follow school rules. If you are in trouble at school, please visit the Children’s Legal Centre Wales website – At School for more information.

Sex / Contraception

Whilst Holden is a virgin there are many references to sexual urges, particularly in chapter four whereby Holden is trying to suss out if Stradlater had sex with his crush Jane. If Holden wished to carry out such urges, then contraception is key. If you are under 18, you can seek contraceptive advice without your parents’ permission since the case of Gillick, therefore anything you discuss with a sexual health clinic or a GP in regards to getting contraception is confidential and will not be shared with your parents. Children capable of forming their own views have a right to express these freely and will be given due accordance in light of their age and maturity. If you are regarded as mature and having understood the information, then Art.12(1) UNCRC will ensure your view is given due weight as you will be seen as being Gillick competent. If you are between the ages of 16-17, then under Section 8 Family Law Reform Act (FLRA) 1969 consenting to treatment will be effective as if you were of full age (S.8(1) FLRA).

The transition from adolescence to adulthood is therefore not as simple as it may appear, there are various hurdles, but I hope this piece has helped you to realise that you are not alone. Whether you need a little more information on issues such as independence, mental health, contraception or whether there are other issues not covered in this piece, the Children’s Legal Centre Wales will have more information.

Hi, my name is Nicole Carter and I am currently in my third year at Swansea University studying Law. After university I hope to become a practising Barrister specialising in Family Law within South West Wales. Facebook – Nicole Carter; Instagram – @nicolecarter_1