Friday, March 15, 2013

Middle Schoolers: Too Much, Too Soon

Raise your hand if you want your 12 year-old to be in a relationship. How about having sex? Yeah, didn’t think so.

I recently finished a four-day volunteer stint at my town's Middle School Book Fair. It was all modern books, modern authors. The school didn't get to choose the books. The publishing company that sponsored the event did.  Wandering around, I didn’t see any of the classics I loved in junior high: Jane Eyre, Where the Red Fern Grows, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And that's ok. New authors aren't bad. I’m a new author and I believe in fresh talent. As I wandered around, however, I felt a growing sense of concern at a common theme threading through many of the new books (particularly as they're being hawked at 10-14 year olds): Love and Relationships.

I attended a writing conference last spring in Temecula, California. As a gift to conference attendees, we were each given one shot with an editor from a major publishing house, who would critique our work at length and provide us with honest feedback. I submitted Book One of my Priscilla Willa series to the editor I was assigned to. (Priscilla is a chapter book series I write for elementary students.) At the time, I created Priscilla to be a 12 year-old. The editor sent me a full page review, saying she loved the book and its story of a young, female entrepreneur.  However, she felt that being a smart, creative girl wasn't enough. If the book was to sell, Priscilla needed to have a boyfriend. I read the letter, shocked and bewildered. Priscilla was twelve!  I went to my computer and lowered Priscilla’s age to ten where she remains happily boyfriendless.

Value yourself. Get to know who YOU are.

What parent wants their 12 year-old daughter to have a boyfriend? Don’t middle schoolers have enough on their plates with raging emotions, changing bodies, and social awkwardness without having to add “steady relationship” to the mix?! The middle school years are a time of transition. Crushes are common, normal, and safe: they let kids put a toe in the shallow end of a very deep ocean. Yet what society is trying to do is get kids to skip the gradual “wade in” and go straight for the end product:  Fourth grade, Barbies. Fifth grade, Boyfriend. It’s like putting a t-bone steak in front of a six month-old: “Here honey, you’re starting to explore new foods, take this on!” It’s too much, too soon. No matter what the marketers say, the kids don’t want it, but what choice do they have when that's all that's being offered to them?

I got a lot of observation time while I monitored the Book Fair.  Our middle school is fifth through eighth grade.  99.9% of the time, the girls came in with other girls, and the boys came in with boys. There was very little intermingling. Several times I peeked out the library window at the commons area where the kids eat lunch.  The kids are allowed to sit wherever they want. The girls sat with girls. The boys sat with boys.  I asked one of my 13-year old twin daughters what the Middle School dances are like. She said it’s mostly girls on one side, boys on the other, and eventually someone gets brave enough to dance. That’s the nature of the beast: Awkward and Innocent.
One of the books featured at the Middle School Book Fair. Unfortunate title. If you bothered to look at the back cover synopsis, the storyline actually looks quite 
interesting; nothing remotely close to its adult namesake.

We, as parents, can't control that which targets our children on a daily basis: books, tv, magazines, movies, internet sites. But what we can do is teach and advise them on how to process the overwhelming amount of propaganda they're receiving. When one of my girls came home and matter-of-factly reported “So and So in our class (7th grade) just broke up with So and So,” I told her “So and So had no business having a boyfriend in the first place.” Then I go on to say as quickly as I can in the 1.5 seconds I have before she tunes me out: "Value yourself. Get to know who YOU are. And let me just make this clear: You are not allowed to have a boyfriend in Middle School. Period."  Of course I get the eye roll, but you know what? I just took the pressure off her. That's one less thing she has to worry about.

Discovery Girls is a magazine subscription I give my daughters. Its mission is to empower girls, not tear them down.

As far as books go, both my middle school daughters are voracious readers. I don't censor what they read, but I do ask them about their selections: "How's that new book I saw you reading?" I'm constantly amazed how brutally forthcoming they are: "It's good, Mom, but the girl in it had sex." Screaming inside, I keep my face neutral and casually ask: "What'd you think of that?" Then we talk. And talk. And talk..... PARENTS, DO NOT BECOME A MUTE DURING THE MIDDLE SCHOOL YEARS!!!!

If you don’t think you need to talk to your kids about this, read this little snippet from Iowa State University:

Low-income kids report first sexual intercourse at 12 years old in new ISU study

AMES, Iowa -- As a new mother herself, Brenda Lohman admits to being shocked by the results of a new study she co-authored. It found that among nearly 1,000 low-income families in three major cities, one in four children between the ages of 11 and 16 reported having sex, with their first sexual intercourse experience occurring at the average age of 12.77.
"So if 12 years was the average age here, that meant that some kids were starting at 10 or younger," said Lohman, an Iowa State University associate professor of human development and family studies (HDFS).  SOURCE:

Shocking isn’t it? Makes me wonder if any of the parents of the kids in this study took the time to say to their kids, “Enjoy what’s left of your childhood. You don’t need to rush things.” We all need to send out that message LOUD AND CLEAR.
Priscilla Willa: A ten year old with brains and initiative! Our daughters need more of this!

Post Note: Apparently this assault on our children is not limited to books.  Victoria's Secret is in on it:  Sexy underwear for the "tween" age. Check it out and decide for yourself:

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