I spent most of last week with new 8th graders. I was with them at meals, chaperoned a cabin at night, and supervised them at work and play. Why yes, I am a saint. Ha! Just kidding. I enjoyed most of it. They are fascinating little creatures, these adolescents and the opportunity for extended fieldwork was valuable. Yes, dear reader, those are the kinds of sacrifices I am willing to make to bring you my weekly commentary on the feeding and care of middle school kids.
I have a few thoughts in random order. I'll probably expand on most of these in future posts.
Also, these apply specifically to 8th graders, but I think they are generally applicable to most adolescents.
1. You have to be specific with adolescents. Adults talk about concepts like "kindness" and "leadership" and "responsibility" and kids nod and we think we've connected. A very few kids will hear that and translate those concepts into specifics. Most, however, won't. I've learned, and am re-learning, how important it is to give concrete details and examples. "Kindness means more than just not being actively unkind. It means when you see someone sitting alone, you invite them to join you. It means that when you see someone who needs help you help them. If someone is sad, you ask them what's wrong and offer to help." Etc. Generalities that make sense to adults often don't really translate well to kids. I am convinced that this is a huge source of adult/adolescent misunderstanding.
2. When properly taught and motivated, adolescents are capable of great kindness, empathy, and leadership. However, these traits are not natural to them. They have to be taught, modelled, explained, and reinforced. They can follow your lead beautifully, but will not do this on their own. It is not the natural order of things, the default setting. It takes time and effort to bring about this kind of behavior. Like any other kind of intertia, unkindness can only be overcome through sustained energy. But if you are willing to make the investment, you can see some lovely results.
3. No matter what their attitude conveys, I think most kids crave adult approval. Being an adult whom they respect enough to value the approval is the work of a lifetime, and a task in which we should all be engaged.
4. Many, if not most, social problems are self-inflicted, or at least self-complicated and enhanced. This is hard to admit sometimes, but it's good news because it means there is a fix!
5. Most adolescents really want to do the right thing but find it incredibly hard given the hormonal changes, social pressures, and other crazy things going on in their lives.
6. Most parents, even very involved ones, have very little idea about what happens at school, which is the majority or at least plurality of their children's lives. I don't mean grades, I mean about the lived experience of their child. It's not their fault--adolescents don't talk much. But there is a side of these kids that really emerges when they are with others in their pack. This is not good or bad--just something I've observed, but it has implications.
7. I am convinced that even very involved parents do not fully appreciate the things that their children know about, hear about, think about, and even do because of the culture to which they are exposed. Good kids from good families routinely hear music and see movies/TV shows that mention and advocate actions and values that the families would reject forcefully if the same actions or values were proposed to them without the context provided by popular culture.
Have a good week! Oh--by the way, I got word that the publisher is running a special promotion for my book, The Kindling. Next week, it will be available to download for the Kindle for the astonishingly low price of .99 cents!
I'm going to risk being potentially controversial here for a few minutes because I saw something last night that really annoyed me. The more I think about it, though, I move from being annoyed to concerned.
Let me start by talking about a friend of mine. He is highly educated and very good at what he does. Very good. He married and he and his wife decided to have a baby. They were ecstatic as the due date drew closer, but my friend realized something. His wife made substantially more in her job than he did in his.
I don't know the discussions and reflection, the soul-searching that went into their decision, but he decided that he didn't want his child being raised by a babysitter (even though his wife's employer provided good quality child care for employees at a good rate--so this wasn't the issue). He just wanted their child to be raised by a parent, especially in those early years.
So, my friend gave up his job he loved and was good at and decided to become a full-time dad. Leaving aside whether you agree with this or not, I think that anyone of good faith ought to be able to acknowledge that my friend made a sacrifice for his family. He unselfishly put his own goals, dreams, and desires on hold in service of what he felt was the greater good of his wife and child. (Incidentally, I know many, many, many men who have put their dreams on hold and demonstrated unselfishness by doing the opposite--by working long hours in difficult jobs so they could support a wife who chose to stay home with a child).
Even though my friend and I are on a different life path, I admire him more than I can say. In my opinion, he is a very good man--this is what good men do. They make sacrifices for their family's well being. He deserves a lot of credit (as do women who make the same choice he's made). He will be a wonderful, wonderful father.
While I wasn't privy to the discussions, I assume that this must have been difficult on many levels. But he did it, ultimately taking responsibility for the life he had helped create. If more parents of both sexes did this, it would be a far better world.
That background may explain why I was so annoyed when I saw a commercial for some stupid new sit-com. From the little I saw it looks like there are three young dads, each of whom has a baby they are caring for. From what I saw they are--wait for it--clueless idiots. I imagine that they have much, much smarter wives, each of whom is a high achiever and endlessly competent (although that's a surmise). These dads are juveniles, infants themselves.
In other words, they are as far from my friend as possible. He is smart, thoughtful, and caring. These look like idiot frat-boy cartoon characters with baby carriers.
It made me mad. It seriously ticked me off. The disparity between the reality and the caricature offended me for my friend's sake.
Now that I'm not so mad, I'm concerned. Our culture is sick. For years it has objectified women--including girls at younger and younger ages. There has been some pushback against that (needs to be more, though). Now, we seem to want to do something similar to men--instead of objectifying, we are going to infantilize them, turn them into idiots.
I would argue that this is as unhealthy for young men and boys to see as the constant and unrealistic commodification of the female body is for young women and girls.
We are allowing our culture to poison our children with ugliness and it really worries me. I see how casually and easily my female students have absorbed all of the cultural messages and now I see young men starting to do the same. This is not a recipe for healthy, happy, well-adjusted humans in the future.
Imagine if we had good data, an empirically based rationale to develop a program that consistently:
1. Reduced levels of childhood poverty
2. Reduced infant and early childhood mortality
3.Reduced maternal depression
4. Reduced affective disorders in middle school students
5. Reduced juvenile crime for children of both sexes
6. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
7. Reduced likelihood of early sexual activity
8. Reduced teen pregnancy
9.Reduced risk of child abuse
10. Reduced likelihood of substance abuse
11. Reduced likelihood of obesity
12. Reduced likelihood of dropping out of school
13. Increased likelihood of academic accomplishment
Imagine the clamor to put in place a program that did all these things. Well, it's been done. It's just that not everyone's on board with the program. It's called Fatherhood. You can read more about these studies here.
(Update: after I posted this piece earlier, I came across another site discussing some research about the benefits of dads. You can see that here.)
The fact that I have to write this--or that it might be controversial--is a sign of cultural madness. We all understand that correlation is not causality, but at some point, it seems that wise people might look at all this smoke and start to wonder if there is a fire.
Normally, I post a cheerful, warm reflection on fatherhood. But I've been noticing that more and more, the very idea of fatherhood, and the idea that it might be important, is becoming extremely unfashionable in many circles--we see everything from amused apathy to outright hostility.
Instead, however, of honoring good fathers and sending cultural messages that they are important, our culture is rife with examples of bad, stupid, and clueless fathers. TV commercials, movies, television shows have all somehow given in to the stupid-father cliche, or the fathers-are-unnecessary theme.
Yes, there are some counter-examples. But I would suggest that, culturally speaking, we have generalized bad/dumb fathers into our collective conscious, while reducing good fathers to isolated examples. That is, we grant that there are some exceptions to the dumb dad syndrome, but our general cultural bias, our unexamined cultural default setting, is that most dads are somewhere on the scale of benign idiot to abusive jerk.
Let's think about this for a minute. I wonder if we could try a thought experiment. I wonder if we could look for places in our society where there are large instances of fatherlessness--places where engaged fathers are rare. We might look at those places and see if they are places that most of us want to live. Most likely, they would be places with high crime, low educational opportunity and probably limited chances for economic advancement. We might also look for places where engaged fathers are more common and compare the quality of life and living conditions. Are there differences?
Discerning clear-cut cause and effect in complex human systems is difficult. But this seems like a no-brainer to me. And yes, obviously a child can grow up in a house without a father and be happy and successful. No one says that it's impossible for a mother to raise good kids alone. But if we are really worried about the kids, as opposed to various ideological agendas, then we have to be honest about what is the best way to maximize the likelihood of the best possible outcomes. I'm not a social scientist, but my understanding is that this is a case where the data are pretty consistently overwhelming.
It makes me sad to think that there are kids in this world who will not ever know the security of a father. The absolute, un-cool, possibly stodgy, old-fashioned, total security that comes from this unique role.
It makes me sad that there are kids who don't have dads and don't know any different--and who are absorbing messages from the culture that it's okay--that dads are lame or useless.
The producers of such garbage are doing a huge disservice to who are already vulnerable.
This is a problem all of us need to face. The health of our culture and the strength of families in that culture effect us all. They effect us in terms of tax dollars needed for educational intervention, in increased crime, in medical interventions for obesity and so on.
Our culture is the air that our society breathes, the way our collective values are both formed and expressed.
Dads are not moms. They do different things. They play different roles. They are not interchangeable. Like moms, dads make mistakes. They do things wrong. But these studies I mentioned above didn't rely on perfect dads. Some of them just demonstrate a benefit from the presence of a father. Some demonstrate a benefit from an engaged father. But they all show what most of us ought to just know and understand intuitively : having a father makes a profound difference in a child's life in ways that can be measured and in ways that have significant outcomes for society at large.
It's time that we start encouraging, cheering, and celebrating fathers. It's time we start teaching young men that fatherhood is a worthy aspiration and something to look forward to. It's time we teach young women that having a husband involved in her life and the life of her child should be the default setting. Sure, there might need to be some exceptions, and we don't want to ostracize and stigmatize--but let's re-establish the optimal situation and then figure out exceptions with kindness and support.
Yesterday was Pi Day, which meant that there was much frivolity and feasting in the math rooms of schools. For one day, they set aside their theorems and formulae and variables and celebrated the annual occurrence of March 14th. I note with some dismay that this is a fairly recent thing. When I was a kid there was no celebration in math classes for any reason.
Today, is a holiday for those of us who are more literary and less quantitative: the Ides of March. The Ides of March are the time when Julius Caesar was killed, made famous in Shakespeare's play, Julius Caesar, when the soothsayer warns Caesar to, "Beware the Ides of March!" I still remember my 10th grade English teacher standing in front of the class in a creaky, spooky voice, wagging his finger and intoning that line. Today, at schools, our halls are dotted with 6th graders in Roman garb, celebrating this holiday at the behest of their history teacher--who is currently teaching them about Ancient Rome.
So, why should anyone care about these two days beside a handful of math and history/English teachers, and their students who get a slice of pie or the chance to wear a toga for a few points of extra credit?
There is much that is wrong in our educational system and the larger culture, and many people have commented on these things. But one of the things that worries me is that we are reducing education to competency with some specific benchmarks. We are becoming increasingly specialized in discrete areas and fields. The idea of a rich, generalized, far-ranging education is almost as quaint and old-fashioned as a horse and buggy. Simply put, I think we know a lot more about much less than we used to.
And that is a shame.
Historically, an education did not merely suit one to get a job--it fitted one to live a better, richer, more interesting life. An educated person was someone who know about a lot of different things--both the value of Pi as well as what the Ides of March were and how they were important.
I'll admit that I don't gain any tangible, concrete benefit from seeing kids in togas and knowing immediately, "Oh, that's right, it's the Ides of March today!" Unless you are a mathematician, the value of Pi probably isn't a big part of your life and there is no practical benefit to knowing why the math teacher brought slices of pie yesterday.
But there is a wonderful feeling in knowing something and knowing you know it. There is a huge value--beyond measure, really--in having some fluency with the basics of different fields. Even if you don't use math every day in your job. Even if what Shakespeare wrote is irrelevant to what you do for a living. That use to be self-evident.
To the extent that we don't know these things, I argue that we are a little poorer in our souls and minds, and that our lives are just a bit emptier.
My grandfather did not go to college. I don't know that he even finished high school, I think he had an 8th grade education. He was a farm boy from Willard, UT who fought in WWII and then delivered Wonder Bread for the next 30 years. But he could recite the funeral oration from Julius Caesar. He could do math and appreciated different styles of music and he read for fun. As I think of the books I saw in his armchair over the years, I realize that he read a wide ranging selection of books, from classics to popular fiction to detailed, complex doctrinal and historical works. He had the kind of broad, general knowledge that some call cultural literacy. He enjoyed these things in spite of his lack of formal education.
I think that is because he grew up in a time when the culture was different. When learning was valued, when it was self-evident that self-improvement meant learning and reading good and great thoughts. When the classics in all disciplines were taught--and when society expected children to learn what people in the past thought was important or meaningful.
The reasons we have strayed from that dynamic are many and complex. Changes in family structure, different ideological movements, changing requirements for the workforce and so on. Some are things that have just happened, some are things that are done to ourselves. Some are the consequence of important advances and changes, the results of genuine progress, while some are the side effect of larger social problems that have no simple solution.
But whatever the cause, my argument is that it will be a real loss if, in the next generation, only history and theatre majors know what the Ides of March are. If only math majors celebrate Pi day, it's equally sad. Not the end of the world, perhaps, but it means that the culture is just a little more impoverished, a little more fragmented.
I'm happy to teach in a school that still provides a rigorous general education, but I fear that my school is in the minority. To be fair, we ask a great deal of schools these days and they are picking up the slack for more and more family and social problems. It is impossible to do all that we ask them to do and the fact that anything at all gets done is, quite frankly, a miracle.
My plea is that we not take the richness of Western Civilization for granted. It is a rich, wonderful, and messy celebration of thousands of years, an amalgam of arts and letters, of numbers and sciences. I wish we'd all branch out a little and read or watch or listen to something different. That we do a math problem or read a play--whatever we don't normally do. That we celebrate Pi Day with food and fun and then reflect on the themes of destiny and choice, freedom and consequences, virtue and corruption, and tyranny and liberty on the Ides of March. That we don't give in easily and surrender to the powerful cultural forces that would further decouple an education from it's traditional breadth and scope and turn it simply into a job training program. That we teach our children about the things we learned and not let everything disappear into the Cloud, to be accessed by a Google search for an occasional paper.
If the next generation doesn't know stuff--whether or not it helps them on a test or in their job--then we lose our civilization. We lose our inheritance. We lose part of what makes life rich and interesting. And that would be literally throwing away our birthright for a bowl of porridge--and would be a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion.
This is disgusting. It is reprehensible. I don't have the words to say what I feel about it. This has nothing to do with politics (incidentally, I made this point when right-wing people mocked young Chelsea Clinton, but there were no blogs back then).
Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post has ridiculed the way the Santorums dealt with the death of their still-born child. You can read about it here. Alan Colmes did the same thing, but was called out on it and apologized. Robinson needs to be called out on it as well--by every parent, by everyone who believes in simple decency.
This revolts and infuriates me. Is nothing off-limits? Is nothing sacred or private anymore? A family mourning a lost child is one of the most intimate, private things I can think of and it is ghoulish and inhuman to discuss it, let alone criticize it.
Do what you want with your own kids--don't have kids if you don't want them. Mourn them however you want. On that note, disagree loudly and vigorously with any of Senator Santorum's policy views (I do with a number of them).
But at what point do we say, "Too far! Stop. Our humanity and decency is far more important than political points!" I would suggest that this is a good point. Is everything to be fair game in politics? Spouses? Children? Dead children? Are there no boundaries? Is politics going to determine what we see is right and wrong. The reality is that many people will react to this story based on their political views. That is wrong. We should react as human beings.
Dear heavens, what and who have we become? I'm normally pretty optimistic, but things like this make me think our culture has crossed a point of no return that makes all our other challenges seem trivial.
Badly done, Mr. Robinson. Badly done.
Not related to Christmas in any way, but I read and loved this quote from Peggy Noonan. I don't always agree with Ms. Noonan, but find her always worth reading. She writes with such grace and clarity, and has such an interesting point-of-view. At any rate, she concludes her column with this:
"We are at a point in our culture when we actually have to pull for grown-up movies, when we must try to encourage them and laud them when they come by. David Lean wouldn't be allowed to make movies today. John Ford would be forced to turn John Wayne into a 30-something failure-to-launch hipster whose big moment is missing the toilet in the vomit scene in Hangover Ten. Our movie culture has descended into immaturity, deep and inhuman violence, a pervasive and flattened sexuality. It is an embarrassment "In Iraq this year I asked and Iraqi military officer doing joint training at an American base what was the big thing he'd come to believe about Americans in the years they'd been there. He thought. "You are a better people than your movies say." He had judged us by our exports. He had seen the low slag heap of our culture and assumed it was a true expression of who we are." Link here.
Well said. It seems to me that this is hard to argue with when you look at the lion's share of what is produced. It further seems that it's difficult to make a compelling argument that this is a good thing. One might say, "Well, I like it." But that doesn't mean it's good or right or desirable. The quote from the Iraqi officer is interesting to me. Noonan says he had assumed our movies accurately expressed who we are. How long can we produce and consume that kind of thing before it becomes who we are?
I hate to interrupt the Christmas cheer, but there are two cases of absolute craziness run amok, mixed with lunacy, layered with insanity, shaken with just plain ridiculousness and it is the clear duty of normal people everywhere to take a minute, hear about these cases, shake your head in disgust, imagine your child in a similar situation, then yell, "STOP!!!!!!!"
In Boston, a first grader was being choked. He fought back and ended up punching his assailant in the groin. He--the one who was choked--is now being charged with sexual assault (read the article here. Note: I am going on the assumption that the story is accurate). If this charge holds, then when he turns 18, his name will be placed on the registry and for the rest of his life, he will be listed as a sex offender. Every time he applies for a job, an apartment--boom. There it is. He won't be able to attend his children's basketball games, concerts or parent teacher conferences.
This, dear readers, is madness. It is madness.
I don't advocate kicking anyone in the groin. But in self defense? That's a pretty common technique. It's also something that happens with amazing regularity any time boys tussle. So now it's a sex offense? If this is upheld--if this boy becomes a sex offender for this, then the designation ceases to have any real meaning.
Think of anytime you have ever had any kind of accidental or inadvertent contact with someone--you slipped and bumped into them, or something similar. My goodness, we could all be charged with this crime.
These administrators need to be called out on this. We have got to stand up and start making noise and letting people know that this is not the way a free, healthy society works.
Another story: a 4th grader in North Carolina called his teacher, "cute." The principal suspended him for sexual harassment. The school district investigated and found that the principal was wrong. Correctly so, in my opinion.
So he was fired. 44 years. Gone. Poof! Read the story here. Ok, he wasn't fired. He "resigned." But we know what that means.
He was wrong--gravely, seriously, ridiculously wrong in my judgement. He should have been written up, warned, and told to apologize.
But to be fired, just like that? I don't know--but I am going to guess, based on 25 years working schools, that the district had a zero tolerance policy for sexual harassment. I'll bet you the principal has been to workshops over the years where he was told that it was his duty to report this and brook no excuses, but to be firm and so forth. I'll bet a 12 pack of Dr. Pepper on this one.
We have a system that is lurching out of control. Common sense has vanished and we rely on policies and procedures--all of which are drawn up in order to provide maximum cover from lawsuits. We don't talk about right and wrong and moral and immoral (except as labels for political policies we don't like). Instead, we have rules and regulations, which can be useful tools but terrible masters.
We have lost perspective, lost all sense of proportion. Little boys who fight should apologize, maybe be grounded, go to detention, stay after school. Not labelled as sex criminals--for the rest of their lives!
Boys who have crushes on their teacher and call them cute should be taught about propriety, good manners, and time and place. But that's not sexual harassment. If it is, then the term means nothing.
Principals who make miscalculations (acting out of deference to school policy and fears of lawsuits) should be reprimanded, corrected, and taught. Not fired.
I'm not saying that the initial actions were right. Groin kicking is bad. Calling a teacher cute is not perhaps prudent or appropriate (although, after teaching in NYC, I've been called far worse. I've actually been called far worse more recently by parents).
All of these stories have one thing in common: a small infraction that was dealt with in a grotesquely exaggerated, totally inappropriate way. We are using fire hoses to extinguish birthday candles.
I maintain that this is the other side of the coin with the Penn State scandal. When you move beyond right and wrong, and deal with policies and procedures and legalities only, you risk missing true evil while responding manically to very trivial, prosaic, minor problems.
Seriously. This has got to stop. And regular people have to do that. We have to push back against this kind of stuff. It might be your kid next. Or you.
Dear Teenagers (Especially My Students and Former Students Who I Love Dearly But Everyone Else is Also Invited to Read):
Can we talk? Those of you who are or were my students, remember how during class you sometimes try to distract me from the task at hand by asking me questions that lead to me talking and giving you life lessons? Here's a secret: I know what you are doing. You are not nearly as subtle as you think you are. But sometimes I go with it because I feel like it's worth it, or I can tell that you're tired and need a break. And also because I care about you and want you to learn things that will make you happy even if those things have nothing to do with quarter notes, head voices, or harmony.
Now I want to interrupt your time (summer) and give you a life lesson. I hope you will read this and think about it.
A few months ago I chaperoned a school dance. I do this twice a year and I did what I always did on these occasions: make fun of you. KIDDING!!!! I would never do that. Really what I did was stand there and feel bad for you. Then I talked with other teachers who also felt bad for you. One teacher, an experienced teacher who is one of the most loving, wise people/teachers I've ever known really felt bad for you and we talked about this at length. I've been thinking about it ever since.
Here's why we feel bad for you. You have more freedom than any other generation of teenagers probably since the world began. You have more leisure time and more stuff to fill that time. There are fewer restrictions or taboos that society places on you. For the most part you live far more comfortably and far more freely than ever before.
And yet, your lives seem to be less rich. You know a lot more about boys or girls (whichever is your opposite) than we did at your age, but I don't think you enjoy those relationships as much as we did. This other teacher and I concluded that in almost every appreciable category, we had less of everything and enjoyed it much more.
So, because I love you dearly--you have no idea how much I think and worry about you--I am going to give you some thoughts about dating, boys/girls, etc. I don't think you know these rules. From what I observe you don't have any idea. And it's not your fault. The culture isn't teaching you anything. These were things that we used to take for granted, things that helped us have fun and make good memories and form deep, satisfying relationships.
First of all: slow down. Way down. I see some of you who don't want to date yet but you go along because everyone else is doing it. Don't be afraid to opt out. I know things that are scary at your age. I see others who don't want to slow down but seriously need to.
Honestly, dating before you are mature enough to enjoy it is not going to be fun for anyone. It's just going to make things muddy. My parents made me wait until 16 to date and I hated them for it at the time. Now I'm so glad they did. Before 16, I was an masterpiece of immaturity and would have been a disaster. Doing everything earlier and earlier is not always a good thing. When my son had a Kindergarten crush a few years ago, the wise teacher told him he couldn't have a girlfriend until he had a driver's license. Loved it.
Second: Don't date one person. If I had a magic wand and could change one thing about the way adolescents live today, I would stop them from "going out" with each other. That means various things. On one extreme, there is just saying you are going out with so-and-so and buying them a Christmas present and that's it. On the other extreme, there are those early teenagers making out with the person they're going out with.
This is sad to me. If all goes well, you will spend the rest of your life in exclusive relationships. That's where you are headed. So, use this time to get to know lots of people. My parents had another rule I hated. I could only date the same person if I dated two other people in between. HATED that then. Guess what rule I'm imposing on my kids? This was great because it forced me to broaden my life. I got to know people that became and remain good friends instead of focusing all my time and attention on the current crush of my life. That was good for me. Former Students: I see you on Facebook and you go through relationships like I go tanks of gas. I have to admit when ever I see your statuses changed to "single" I cheer a bit. I know it hurts to break up but I am convinced that being single is how you are supposed to be in middle and high school. Single with lots and lots and lots of fun, flirtatious friendships. You do NOT need a boy or girlfriend to be happy. In fact, if you are not happy without one, then getting one will not m
Third: Dating does not equal romance. It can, and it's a lot of fun when it does. But you can go on a date with a friend and have a lot of fun. Looking back, the dates that I remember and enjoyed the most were the dates where my guy friends and I went out with girls we liked but were not in love with. That was fun because there was no pressure. FUN! Have fun. There is plenty of time for commitment later. Don't get bogged down in it too soon. A committed relationship between two mature adults is one of life's great glories. The same thing between two immature people is a bitter fruit that can taint your life for years. Also: mature does not mean when you think you are. Physiologically, you are not mature while in middle or high school. You're just not. Your body is still growing and developing. And that includes your brain and emotions.
I'm not against liking a guy/girl and going out with him/her. I just wish it didn't have to be so exclusive so early. Young love is a wonderful thing. Enjoy it. But I think you'll enjoy it more in the present and regret it less later if there are some restraints there and it doesn't dictate every other aspect of your life.
This is way too long now for your text-message-trained brains, so I'm going to end my post here and write the rest of it later. Do please give this some thought, Dear Ones. If any of you have read this far you may stop by my office for a piece of candy the first week of school.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post lamenting the fact the in a sexually saturated culture, we've essentially put our kids in cars, taken away the guardrails and told them to drive as fast as they can.
That post generated quite a bit of email from people, both in agreement and disagreement, and those emails have led me to a lot of further thought.
I found a very interesting article in the New York Times in which the author recounts being 14 and having her first chance for a sexual encounter. At the last minute, she decided she wasn't ready and and left. In her words:
"...I said no, sorry, I wasn’t ready after all. We broke up the next morning, and then got back together again days later, and then broke up a few more times. I eventually did go to third; yes, I did. I grew up; I got married; I had children; decades passed, and I lived through personal happiness and disappointment, and I barely thought about this little moment again until recently. What I had given myself, in saying no back then, was the luxury of time — time to figure out what I wanted, what felt best. No is like being in graduate school; you’re allowed to think for a while, and not be in the world." (Meg Wolitzer, emphasis added, entire article here).
This writer is not making a moral or religious case for teen abstinence/postponement. She makes what I think is a very rational case that people from different backgrounds can probably agree on. "What's the rush? Take some time. Wait a little. In retrospect, you won't regret waiting. You loose nothing by taking some time and maturing. On the other hand, if you rush it, you could lose a great deal and have some regrets." I think that is a very healthy message for kids--teens and adolescents to read. It doesn't have to be draconian or heavy-handed. Well said, Ms. Wolitzer.
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