‘Mum, Why do people kiss?’
‘Umm…because they love each other?’ I was trying to hide the nervous twitch.
‘Ugh! I hate the idea of salivas mixing!’
‘Well…You might think differently a few years later,’ I smiled and tried to hide the relief this time.
‘Why do you ask?’ the motherly curiosity to find the source of that revelation took over.
‘Nothing, the boy in the book I am reading, kissed a girl and was acting like buffoon about it.’
‘Hmm…and how was the book?’
‘Awesome, ma!’ And with that, he set off to give me a blow by blow account of the entire plot which turned out to be a thrilling journey with a tiny mention of an awkward teen kiss.
So do I deprive them of a perfectly delightful book that in passing mentions an absolutely normal teen action? A lot of parents might scoff at the idea and label me an irresponsible parent. If, not ducking my head in a sand pit every time I encounter something uncomfortable makes me an irresponsible parent, then so be it. Yes, I let them read books that treat their teen protagonists as just that – a teenager on the threshold of adulthood. I know the whole idea of broaching subjects, even remotely related to birds and bees, to the kids still ties majority of people in knots.
First of all, some facts:-
1. Kids are not mere innocent angels. They are humans. Humans have urges, and curiosity at their age, leads the pack. So even if we do not discuss it all with them, an odd bee or a bird will find its way in their head anyhow.
2. On one hand, they see movies ranging from Lion King to X-men, all of which have mild to in-your-face sexual/romantic undertones. Yet similar, but much milder stuff, in the written words gets the book in a banned list internationally or at least on the home turf.
3. The more casual the whole topic is, the better the chances of them making somewhat intelligent choices. Actions driven by forbidden curiosity seldom lead to desirable outcomes.
4. Children are surprisingly much more forthcoming and receptive about sexual knowledge and feelings than the know-it-all adults.
5. Gender roles start to form in stages as early as toddlerhood and by the time they are around 8-10 years old they have a fair idea about the stork’s business.
6. All kids come with their own independent timeline. The ‘appropriate age groups’ mentioned in fine print on the back of the books are merely guidelines – which obviously doesn’t imply that they should be reading Fifty shades of Grey!
So what does all that mean for us?
1. Simply speaking, make a choice – whom do you want his/her source information to be? A mandatory class at school that even the teacher wants to avoid, a kid his age who has a pretty whacked out idea about the entire thing, a website they stumble upon or you? I am assuming it shall be the last one unless you plan to dunk your head in the sand pit and pretend that it has all gone away.
2. Now gather your resources – read up. Yes, you know how the reproductive cycle comes about but you might want to read up as to how to give out that information to the children. There are a million books out there which guide you through it all- some can even be read with the kids.
3. Practice the ‘I-am-not-scandalized’ expression in front of the mirror. You might also want to deep breathe a lot to avoid the ears and face turning scarlet.
4. Brace yourself for the million questions that they will fire off and answer them as honestly as you can.
5. Keep revisiting the birds and bees. It is never done and over with. Keep the communication channels open.
You might wonder, exactly how talking to them about the big bad ‘S’ word relates to the world of books? It perfectly does. Thing is, sexual awareness doesn’t just translate into talk about sex, pregnancy, disease and the like. It also recognizes, infatuation, curiosity and the feelings that start to stir up around preteen years, as an inherent part of growing up. So we can’t just have ‘the talk’ and then shove it in the bottom drawer. It has to be accepted as a part of our lives. Books are an exaggerated reflection of reality. So if there is any content in there which is remotely suggestive, a good start in getting past it is to discuss the sexual references in any book that they read. Chances are you’ll not even need to bring it up much since they usually form a negligible part of the children’s literature narratives – insignificant enough to be ignored in the greater good of a strong reading habit.
As a thumb rule, I read all books, whose appropriateness is questionable, first. I don’t mind fleeting references and brief stolen kisses. Once that is done, I honestly inform my boys (aged 10 and 12) that the book is nice and there might be parts they find confusing, uncomfortable or plain intriguing – they can talk to me about it. And believe me they do! I feel honest discussion can never result in anything bad.
Recently, for instance, I read Vortal Shockwave (an unputdownable book by Ashok banker for young adults). Barring one instance of an older boy kissing his girlfriend, there was nothing in the book that would make me hide it from the boys. And I frankly told my older one that I thought it was the kiss that put it in the Young Adult segment since the whole premise otherwise was absolutely fine for any avid reader his age. The plot was engrossing and something I knew he would thoroughly enjoy.
‘So, what do you think?’ I rolled the ball gently into his court.
‘Mum, I know the whole idea behind people going around. Last year most of my classmates were tripping over each other, boasting of girlfriends. And remember, we did see a boy and girl from senior wing snog behind the bus!’
Briefly, that discomforting, protective maternal instinct swept over me again, and I blinked. Thankfully, he continued, ‘I, honestly, do not feel the need for all that right now, and think that I need to grow up a bit more. And then, girls are annoying!’
Without another word, I handed him the book and sure enough a few hours later both of us were discussing the awesome parts. The excitement in his eyes after reading a great story is much bigger for me than the taboo of a stolen kiss at his age. We need to accept the fact that it is perfectly normal and has nothing to do with morality. Kids will read about it, steal glimpses as you hastily lunge for the TV remote, or simply increase their knowledge base thanks to the hormonally driven seniors. So we might as well make it a normal part of conversation and not cover our mouth in visible horror when the realisation, that they might actually be more aware than we gave them credit for, dawns upon our righteous heads.
The younger one heard our discussion and covered his ears and started singing. ‘Stop! I haven’t read it yet! Don’t spoil it for me!’
He snatched it and ran to his favourite corner. I opened my mouth to tell him that the ‘information bureau’ was open in case he wanted to ask about anything that he comes across in there, but he spoke first, ‘I know, Ma! I’ll ask you if I find something weird but seriously I still find the idea of kissing gross! Yuck!’
I stifled my laughter and got back to reading another one. We are fine as long as we can joke about it all, and talk about it in the same tone as we’d discuss weather. And the boys are doing a better job at it than me. My ears still turn a shade short of scarlet when unexpected trivia/questions are hurled. Need to practice the straight face a bit more!
Originally posted at: Inappropriate books?