I love nothing more than young writers being given a chance. It's also a bit of a shame to see work published that isn't quite ready, particularly when the writer is young. It's a tough situation, though, because on the one hand I think young writers should be treated like anyone else, and usually want to be. On the other hand, even if a young writers work is 'good enough' I believe they may gain more from a carefully worded rejection letter than the validation of having their work published when the work, and probably them as well, just isn't ready (keeping in mind, good enough to be published these days doesn't mean good enough to succeed as a writer).
And I'd like to clarify I'm not talking 'young' strictly in terms of age, but more like writer-age. Though, even without a bio it's often clear a piece is by a writer without much experience, and one can often guess correctly if they're young, as adults who want to be writers have usually had a bit more time to read and soak up the world and learn some writing instincts. This isn't always true, as some young people have had plenty life to soak up, and more importantly time to read, but it's often an accurate generalization.
What's particularly tricky is the world of writing is full of sycophants and nepotism and well-meaning praise. It's particularly bad with short fiction, I've found. If you write a mediocre novel, or hell even a mediocre novel query, chances are it will never see the light of day. If you write a mediocre short story, chances are some publication, somewhere (probably online) will publish it. And no matter how bad a story is, chances are some reader (probably an aspiring writer themselves) will be ready with praise and congratulations and who is anyone else to question the work... it's been published.
This only seems to magnify when someone is a sympathetic character themselves. A teenager? Readers will be more kind, and I wonder if editors more lenient. Some cute old grannie? Aw, shucks, how can a cute old grannie write anything bad? And what kind of monster would say anything negative or dislike a story from a cute ol' grannie?! Nobody wants to be the guy in a beginning poetry class with mostly girls writing poems about their boyfriends to have to break the bad news that no, the 'it was good, I liked it' feedback all the other girls just gave may not be completely honest, or helpful. It's usually easier to just board the sympathetic train, or watch the train leave the station, than be the one to point out some young writer is a stowaway on a journey they may not be ready for or deserve.
I've found many readers, online especially, are also just writers hoping for any praise and validation they can find. Like the poetry class, they see themselves in the writer, or see a sympathetic writer and don't want to be the one to crush spirits. You compliment your friends hair, hoping they notice your own new hairstyle. You cringe inside at your friends new hairstyle, but don't want to be mean, so say it looks... sporty, trying to be nice. Right or wrong, this also occurs in the writing world (writers are people too, sometimes). A young writer gets something published, and friends, family and the odd amount of complete stranger sycophants online praise it, congratulate it, say your writing is just so... interesting, and might you want to check out their self-published e-novel?
Some smart writer should write a book called: So, You've Been Published, But Now What?
Really, what now. You're a young writer. Some editor has deemed your writing good enough to be published (though perhaps not good enough to offer a few hours of editing first). Your story is now published, online for the world to see, for everyone to read, forever.
In the worst case scenario, the young writer thinks they've finally arrived. Finally gotten what they deserve. Finally gotten their career off the ground. I mean, they're now published. And who are you to say anything? What have you done lately?
Well, personally, I've been continuing to read and write and improve my craft because I'm naturally jaded enough to know that being published doesn't mean squat. I'm also lucky enough to have started writing relatively late, and spent years reading (decades! If you assume I learned to read around age 6), getting a feel for not only what does and doesn't work in fiction, but what kind of writer I want to be. And it's surely not one that thinks that even if published, the stuff I was writing as a teenager, or in the first few years of my 'trying to be a writer' was anything close to a good place to launch a career.
My plan may not be for everyone, especially as I see my own generation of writers all chomping at the bit, impatiently wondering why their time isn't NOW and their success not starting yesterday. My plan: wait, watch, work. Some day I'll hopefully be published. Not because I can (people say it's hard, but is it really that hard?!), but I'll be published because my work, and myself as a writer, are both where I want them to be, which is a specific state constructed over years. And I surely wasn't ready to start being the writer I want to be as a teenager, and probably am still not quite ready.
If lucky, the young writer gets excited, woohoo published, and rides the high for a few weeks, but is then able to see through the sympathetic chatter to notice the shrugs, the luke-warm comments, the silence. The jading process starts (and the sooner the better) and they realize they haven't done a thing. If they're really lucky, they learn a valuable lesson and realize they just weren't ready, their writing wasn't ready, and they'll wait the next time, spend more time watching, putting in the work, and then the next time hopefully the praise and adulation will feel more deserved, will mean something, will be the kind of thing to start a career.
But, who is going to tell a young writer to turn down publication? That the smart thing may be to wait, and keep working? Who thinks more work is ever the answer these days? And we can't trust most friends or family to tell a young writer the truth, sadly. I think good teachers may have the tough you're-just-not-ready talk with students, but not often enough. Maybe they'll read some blog like this, gain some perspective, find the wisdom of being jaded without the pain of first-hand experience.
I dunno, it all seems, in my experience, like it's very easy for a young writer to go a very long time without gaining much perspective into this sort of thing, and it's only getting worse. The internet doesn't help (I wrote a blog post at some point about the devaluing of the word 'published' by the hordes of online journals that have to publish something, and in some cases seem to publish anything). Nor does our society, which seems to value being nice, even if it's empty praise, far more than being honest.
In the end, those who publish writers are responsible for what they publish, right? I know editors don't usually have the time to actually provide one-on-one editing these days, much less take on every young writer in a mentorship role. But at some point, I believe editors in some ways are like the foster parents of writers. Good parents learn to say no to children. Good parents learn to understand that it may hurt denying your baby, but have an eye on the bigger picture. Good parents want the best for their children, and will take the time and care to walk that fine line between letting a child have what they want, and insisting on what is actually good for them.
Now, I know I do just about everything differently than many/most writers think should be done, and I'd be no different as a parent, teacher or editor (I'm no stranger to the 'why on Earth are you doing that, oh, wow, that worked perfectly' experience). If a young writer submitted a story to my hypothetical publication, unless the work really was perfect and spectacular, I'd suggest maybe more time and work would be of a greater benefit than a young writer seeing their name in lights, only to see those lights fade so soon. Even if it meant losing a 'good enough' story I could publish. Just because you can, doesn't mean you should (wow, I sound like a parent!).
Deny with grace and care. Let the writer learn the valuable lessons of rejection in a behind the scenes way that is encouraging, not in the potentially misguiding or hurtful way that one is open to as work is published, made public, for the whole world to see and judge. Give them the 'keep it up' encouragement and high of gaining ground on their writing career, but in a message to keep working, to not settle. Foster the relationship with the writer, so the next year, or decade, whenever they're finally ready, they'll come back to you. Hopefully then everyone can avoid the temporary thrill a baby bird feels while falling, before it realizes perhaps it wasn't quite ready to fly.