Everything is Educational

matroyshkaThe first Christmas with my husband, the one before we were actually married, I was planning to buy gifts for his sister’s children.  He told me, “She doesn’t like educational toys.”

“But everything is educational!  Children are always learning,” was my confused reply.

(In my sister in law’s defense, I think she was referring to electronic teaching toys, not the magnetic alphabet I’d wanted to buy.)

I still believe that children are influenced by everything they see and hear, touch and feel.  Images once seen are not unseen.  Blows -physical or emotional – felt are not unfelt.  Words heard are not unheard.

As parents, my husband was ready to agree with this theory when it came to television.  Less agreeable about music, he wanted to cling to the idea that nobody really pays attention to lyrics.  That only works until your child sings them, clearly knowing every word.

When it comes to books, though, he’s of the, “At least they’re reading,” mindset.  I don’t believe there’s a good excuse for filling a child’s (or an adult’s) mind with garbage, regardless of how the trash is delivered.  Because I love reading so much myself, trashy books seem more influential to me than trashy television.

For most of our 22 year of parenting, it didn’t come up.  One of my sons was an avid reader; the other was not.  Their literary lows came in elementary school with Star Wars novels and Captain Underpants. 

My daughter, however, is drawn to trashy teen supernatural romance novels.  It’s the trashy teen romance part that bothers me.  I’m 97% certain she wants to read them because they are what her friends read at school – just like she listens to the music her friends listen to and wishes she could watch the tv shows they watch.  (Their influence wanes in summer, and we are back to her own personal obsessions.)

In theory, I almost like the idea of reading the books with her, to discuss and dissect them.  That would be a wonderful way to address my concerns or to ruin the book for her.  The truth is, I don’t want to read that trash.  (I do skim through books before rejecting them, and, yes, sometimes she reads books at school she knows I’d reject.)

Part of me wishes I could just let her be.  I tell myself, “She is who she is.  Some people like Jane Eyre; some people read Harlequin romances.”  I say, “Lots of women read trash.  They’re not all doomed to bad relationships, are they?”

Then she tells me about another friend collapsing in the middle school bathroom in tears admitting she’s been cutting and not eating because her boyfriend dumped her, or was arrested at the Seven-11, and I decide to stick with my old philosophies.

She can be herself after I’ve given her time to figure out who she is.

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10 thoughts on “Everything is Educational

  1. I think the family environment has more influence than some books. That said, I’m glad my daughter was never interested in reading books like Gossip Girl. Heck, I’m glad she had no interest in shows like Sex and the City. That show would take some splainin’. But for all that our kids were exposed to, I still think the family environment dilutes the intent of questionable content.

    • I agree that it dilutes it, but I don’t believe it negates it. I still feel the impact of books I read at her age, and I know more than a few women who entered into relationships expecting it would be like a romantic novel or movie – despite having parents with solid, not perfect, marriages.

  2. Our 17 year old daughter’s taste in reading has matured and she no longer reads kind of silly/slightly trashy young adult books she was drawn to in middle school and early high school. In discussing reading with her, she prefers contemporary fiction with characters she can relate to. I try to suggest titles that I come across that seem a cut above pop fiction and I hope she will come to love the classics over time but I let her choose for herself what to read. It is recreational for her and an area where she is safe being independent.

    • That is good to hear. I really do think it is fine to not be an avid reader, or to only enjoy light reading. If my daughter never enjoys the classics, she’ll be no less in my eyes. Reading your comment, I realize that part of what bothers me is her willingness to suppress her own tastes. The difference between the books she chooses to read during summer, when there are no schoolmates to assess her choices, and what she wants to read during the school year is significant.

  3. It is really hard to be a teenage girl. At least with these rules she can blame her parents when it comes time to make excuses to other girls who are possibly bad influences. Your job is to get her to adulthood. it sounds like you are doing a good job to me. Also, you might want to call a guidance counselor about the girl in the bathroom. It sounds like she might need an adult to intervene.

  4. she’ll thank you when she’s older for the things you didn’t let her read, do or watch. it’s a metaphor for not letting her cross the street when she was little until she learned to look both ways. it’s not easy to do. it’s far easier to take the path of least resistance and teenage resistance is a force.

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