Category Archives: Education
Oy. We were at the dinner table, discussing puberty (as you do). The six-year-old strongly expressed her desire never to “born a baby,” and said she never will, because there are pills that can keep you from getting pregnant. (We’ve discussed this particular issue before.) Then the older kid started listing other birth control methods. Like, really specifically, and with authority. I don’t have a problem with her knowing about these things, but I haven’t gotten to that level of detail with her, and I don’t think it’s in any of her books. So I asked where she learned all that. I think it helped that I had more of an admiring tone than a worried or judgmental one.
So she told me about encountering a link to the “Murry” show after watching a Minecraft video, and being so shocked and disturbed by the title she felt compelled to watch it. And that led to watching a lot more. Once she described stories of tweens having group sex, 14-year-old prostitutes, and nine-year-olds smoking and drinking, I figured out which show she was talking about.
And actually, it led to a great discussion. As I told her, this is one of the reasons why we’ve told her not to go exploring on YouTube. Because I would rather that she learn about normal, healthy behavior before being exposed to what is really just a modern-day freak show. Maury is designed to shock and titillate, and provide fodder for that impulse we have to judge others. It’s pretty much the worst sex-ed material you could find outside of porn. But, I was pretty impressed at her ability to digest the information and process it into useful caveats about sex and drugs. Of course, she is also naturally cautious, thoughtful, and eager to please authority figures, so that probably helped. But her overall reaction was shock, and a passionate determination never to do things like that.
I think this important conversation was only possible due to two major factors:
- We mostly avoid punitive discipline. Not completely, but I do try to adhere to “connection before correction,” in an effort to keep my kids comfortable coming to me in situations that they worry might get them in trouble – whether that’s spilling something on the furniture, watching inappropriate videos, or (eventually) something bad or dangerous happening involving cars, alcohol, sex, or whatever.
- Before encountering these videos, my kid knew quite a bit about sex, from a loving, factual, normalized perspective. I strongly feel that the best way to approach sex education is to treat it like all other education – answer questions as they come up, in an honest and developmentally appropriate way. I found It’s So Amazing to be a wonderful resource, which I could use for visual reference as I shared information with my pre-literate children, and then as an age-appropriate resource to be used by reading age children on their own.
I believe that pretty much everyone’s kids are going to run across some puzzling, worrisome, or disturbing content before we would consider them ready to handle it. Having so much information at our fingertips makes it nigh inevitable. It’s worth thinking about how your parenting might not just limit the chances of such an occurrence, but also give your child space to ask for your help if it does happen. I feel like if I’d been a bit less connection-focused (I’ve been working on minimizing punishment lately), or if my kids didn’t already have a firm track record of me talking about squirm-inducing subjects in a matter-of-fact and open way, or if my daughter had had no context whatsoever in which to place the extreme spectacle she saw, she probably would have simply clammed up, hidden it from me, and worried about it on her own.
I’m sitting here looking at my daughter’s fourth grade reading log. Starting on day 1 of school, the teacher decreed that students must read for at least 20 minutes each day, keep track of the reading in their reading log, and turn it in with student and parent signatures affixed. The log requires Chloe to fill in the title of her reading material, along with a code designating what type of reading material it is. Then she needs to record how many minutes she read, as well as the pages she read, and both of us need to fill in comments about the reading at least once a week.
Looking at this reading log literally makes me feel like crying. What better way could a teacher concoct to make children hate reading? I have loved to read since I learned how. Right now I’ve got two books on the “front burner” and three on the “back burner,” meaning there are two books lying around which I tend to pick up and read at least a few times a week, and a few others I started but got distracted from for the moment. I had to start using the library instead of my Kindle because I was spending way too much money on books without realizing it. I’m a reader! And my voracious reading has delivered concrete benefits like high test scores and a massive vocabulary, so no one can argue that the way I read or what I’ve chosen to read isn’t academically useful.
And I don’t read log-style. I read what delights me at the moment. Sometimes the delight comes from satisfying curiosity or tackling a challenge, and sometimes it’s just getting on board for an easy ride with some fabulous characters. If I had to fill out that log each day to document my forays into Botswana with Mma Ramotswe or my visits to the eldritch New England of H.P. Lovecraft, I would probably start avoiding books. I would procrastinate reading, because it would have mutated into a chore. One with tiresome bookkeeping responsibilities. Would the stories enchant me and make me lose track of time and place when I had to quantify how long I read? My heart feels heavy when I try to imagine this scenario.
So how much heavier are the hearts of kids who still stumble over new words and are just starting to taste that fluid reading skill which delivers one into a new world, rather than merely presenting words on a page? My child already gets frustrated sometimes when she misreads and has to go back to figure out a sentence, or when she comes upon a new and idiosyncratic proper noun. She doesn’t need a taskmaster standing over her shoulder reminding her what a chore reading is on top of it all!
For now, I will be filling out Chloe’s reading log. I will write down whatever number the teacher has said is the minimum for that day. I will not refer to the clock when I do so. I will discuss with Chloe what we read, and jot down one of her comments on the log, along with one of my own. I want her to interact with this poisonous document as little as possible. Later, when the teacher has learned to know and love Chloe, I might discuss with her my concerns about the reading log. I don’t want to be a parent who launches the first week of school by shoving an Alfie Kohn essay into the teacher’s face. So we’ll be on the down-low for now.
The one good thing about this reading log is it did make me think about how much we read, and realize I would like to expand reading time. But I won’t be setting a timer – well, maybe I will, for the TV. Limiting TV, keeping good books around, and sitting down to read with my kids will be my approach, rather than treating books like overcooked Brussels sprouts that must be choked down.
(By the way, if you want to test your vocabulary size, check out this cool site.)